How healthy is your heart? Three out of four adults in the U.S. have a predicted heart age that's older than their real age, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and that difference puts people at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
"Heart age" is calculated based on risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, the presence of diabetes, and body mass index (BMI) as an indicator of obesity.
Using data collected from all states, as well as information from the Framingham Heart Study, CDC researchers found that heart age varies by gender, region, ethnicity/race, and other sociodemographic characteristics. The report found that nearly 69 million adults between the ages of 30 and 74 have a heart age more advanced than their true age. That's about the total number of people living in the 130 largest U.S. cities combined, according to a CDC news release.
"Too many U.S. adults have a heart age years older than their real age, increasing their risk of heart disease and stroke," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. "Everybody deserves to be young – or at least not old – at heart."
Some of the key findings from the report include:
- The average heart age for men is 7.8 years older than their actual age, compared to 5.4 years older for women.
- Heart age was higher than actual age for all race/ethnic groups, but it was highest for African-American men and women, averaging 11 years older than their chronological age.
- For men and women, excess heart age increased with age and decreased with greater education and income.
- Geographically, adults in the Southern U.S. typically have higher heart ages. Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky and Alabama have the highest percentage of adults with a heart age 5 years or more over their actual age. Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts have the lowest percentage.
What's your heart age?
You can compare your actual age to your heart age by using an online calculator called Cardiovascular Disease Population Risk Tool, or CVDPoRT. Based on several factors (age, smoking status and lifetime exposure, alcohol consumption, diet, physical activity, stress, sense of belonging, ethnicity, immigration status, education, socioeconomic status of the neighborhood, diabetes, high blood pressure), the calculator predicts your risk of being hospitalized or dying from cardiovascular disease. Additional quality-of-life calculators based on Canadian health data are available at Project Big Life.
The Framingham Heart Study predictor offers another collection of online tools. Enter a few statistics and answer several yes/no questions and you'll get an idea about your level of risk for a variety of cardiovascular conditions such as stroke, coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure.
The CDC report suggests that people work with their doctors to calculate their heart age and then take steps to improve it, if necessary. This could a healthier diet, exercising more, quitting smoking and/or taking medication to manage blood pressure.
Cardiovascular disease is responsible for nearly 800,000 deaths and about $320 billion in costs in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC.
"Because so many U.S. adults don’t understand their cardiovascular disease risk, they are missing out on early opportunities to prevent future heart attacks or strokes,” said Barbara A. Bowman, Ph.D., director of CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. “About three in four heart attacks and strokes are due to risk factors that increase heart age, so it’s important to continue focusing on efforts to improve heart health and increase access to early and affordable detection and treatment resources nationwide."
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in September 2015.