How Old Is Your Heart?

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Is your heart age the same as your chronological age? Unfortunately, for many Americans, the answer is no—because, due to cardiac risk factors and unhealthy lifestyle habits, their hearts are actually many years older than they should be.

Calculating Your Heart Age

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a very handy heart age calculator that can be accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/cardiovasculardisease/heartage.html.

This predictor uses traditional cardiac risk factors of body mass index (BMI), gender, blood pressure, smoking history and diabetes to calculate your heart age.

For example, according to this calculator, a 30-year-old woman with a systolic blood pressure (that’s the top blood pressure number) of 118 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) who has never been treated for high blood pressure, who doesn’t smoke, who doesn’t have diabetes, and who has a normal BMI of 22.5, has a heart and vascular (blood vessel) age of 28, which is actually younger and healthier than her chronological age.

However, according to the same calculator, a 45-year-old man with a systolic blood pressure that is slightly elevated at 126 mm Hg, who has never been treated for high blood pressure, who doesn’t currently smoke, and who doesn’t have diabetes but is obese with a BMI of 38, has a heart age of 52, one that is older than he is.

I encourage you to plug your own numbers into this calculator and see what your own heart age is. You can quickly see, by playing around a bit with the calculator, which risk factors make a big impact on your heart health.

The calculator also gives you an estimate of your 10-year risk of having a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.

If you need to calculate your BMI first in order to use this heart age calculator, this is easily done by knowing your height and weight and plugging them into this standard BMI calculator offered by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI): http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

How to Have a Younger Heart

Focusing on a healthy diet, healthy lifestyle habits and a healthy weight can give you a younger heart. Such lifestyle changes can improve or even eliminate many of the cardiac risk factors you may have, such as overweight or obesity, or high blood pressure (which responds well to a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss).

Aim to get regular exercise of at least moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes every day. Focus on eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which has been proven in decades of large clinical trials to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

If you smoke, quit smoking ASAP. In just a short time, quitting smoking has major favorable effects on your heart and cardiovascular system.

Avoid second-hand smoke exposure.

Getting enough sleep, in the range of seven to nine hours per night, is also important for heart health, and can prevent obesity as well.

Most importantly, know your numbers and your risk, and work with your physician and healthcare team to reduce your risk.

Sources:

Goff DC, Lloyd-Jones DM, Bennett G, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the assessment of cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation 2014;129:549-573.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). World Health Organization fact sheet. Accessible online at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/

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