Do You Know Your ‘Heart Age’?

There’s another important number to consider when evaluating your health: Your “heart age.”

If your heart age is at, or less than, your actual age, your risk factors for heart disease are average or below average. But 40 percent of Americans have a heart age that is greater than their real age by five or more years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found.

This new study is the first of its kind, reviewing more than a half-million adults between the ages of 30 and 74 who took part in the landmark Framingham Heart Study, a project initiated decades ago that has helped identify the top risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The results of the “heart age” study found that, overall, the average heart age for adult non-Hispanic white males and females was 7.8 and 5.4 years older than their chronological age, respectively.

When broken down by ethnicity, African-Americans had the oldest hearts, followed by Hispanics. On average, the hearts of African-American men and women were about 11 years older than their actual ages. Hispanic men had hearts about eight years older than their biological ages, and Hispanic women had hearts that were 5.9 years older.

Figuring ‘Heart Age’ Can Be A Helpful Tool

“By using a simple number, figuring a person’s heart age is an effective way to alert them to the risk factors for heart disease,” said Harry Aldrich, M.D., head of the cardiovascular section of the Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at South Miami Hospital. “Your heart age integrates blood pressure, diabetes and BMI (body mass index), as well as lifestyle habits such as smoking. Some people need to be more cognizant of risk factors, including excessive weight and family histories.”

The CDC and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which helped implement the original Framingham study, hope that the easy-to-figure “heart age” helps more people recognize their risk factors for heart disease, motivating them to see a doctor and make crucial lifestyle changes to improve their health.

“Use of predicted heart age might simplify risk communication and motivate more persons to live heart-healthy lifestyles and better comply with recommended therapeutic interventions,” concludes the latest study published by the CDC.

In 2008, the Framingham Heart Study introduced the concept of heart age by using a simple calculator that asks a person’s gender, real age, systolic blood pressure (the higher number) and BMI (a number between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal). A high BMI, which is calculated using weight and height, can be an indicator of high body fatness, the CDC says. (The Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute provides a more extensive, online heart health risk assessment.)

Modifiable Risk Factors

Numerous studies have identified a number of modifiable cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight or obese. Non-modifiable risk factors include a family history of heart disease and genetic predispositions such as ethnic backgrounds.

The Framingham heart age calculator also asks if a person smokes and whether he or she has diabetes.

“Many people at risk are already aware of their cardiovascular risks, but others are in denial and need to see these numbers,” said Dr. Aldrich. “For example, some people come in worried about their heart. But after asking a few questions, I found out that they still smoke. Some people have a difficult time dealing with the necessary lifestyle changes.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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