Here’s some news that will get everyone’s heart beating a little faster. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly 69 million adults — approximately 43 percent of the adult population—have a heart age older than their actual age. The significance of this finding is that an “older” heart equates to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, the average heart age for men ages 30-74 is 8 years older than their chronological age, and the average heart age for women in the same age group is 5 years older. This is a wake up call.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death of men and women of all ethnicities. Every year, it is responsible for over 800,000 lives lost and significant disability. The good news is that nearly 75 percent of cases of heart disease can be prevented or delayed by managing or controlling cardiovascular risk factors. Let’s learn how to stay “young at heart.”
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About Heart Age
What is heart age? The predicted age of our heart and blood vessels based on risk factors for heart attacks and stroke. This term and its comparison with chronological (actual) age represent a new way to express risk for developing cardiovascular disease. The goal is to simplify communication of this risk.
Oftentimes we are told that controlling our blood pressure can decrease the chances of developing heart disease. But how significant is this? If your healthcare provider stated that it would result in a 25 percent relative risk reduction, it would sound like it’s an important thing to do, but again, is difficult to understand how impactful it is.
On the other hand, being told that blood pressure control would reduce your heart age by 6 years provides a greater understanding of your risk and, consequently, a more emotional impact. The end result: motivation to change behaviors and increased compliance with treatment plans.
How is heart age calculated? With a simple calculator that asks for your gender, actual age, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), body mass index (BMI), and if you are being treated for high blood pressure, are a current smoker, or diabetic. It is available on www.cdc.gov.
Whose hearts are older and younger? Based on the results of this study, on average, all Americans, regardless of ethnicity had an increased heart age. African American men and women had the oldest hearts, on average 11 years older than their actual ages. Hispanic men had hearts 8 years older and Hispanic women 5.9 years older.
It was also found that a number of states in the South — Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia — had the oldest hearts. Conversely, Utah, California, Hawaii and Colorado had the youngest hearts.
How can we be heart wise? Lifestyle changes can help bring the fountain of youth to our hearts. While we cannot change our genes, gender or chronological age, there are a number of things we have control over.
• The Physical Activity Guidelines of 2008 recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. This is approximately the length of a long movie.
• Heart-healthy diets include controlling portion size, eating more fruit and veggies, decreasing unhealthy fats, choosing lean proteins and minimizing salt intake.
• Adequate blood pressure control can minimize the impact of hypertension. The key is to get checked. Millions of Americans have high blood pressure but do not even know it. This is because it oftentimes has no symptoms until it is too late.
The next time you are at your pharmacy, take a few minutes to utilize their easy-to-use equipment. Low-cost home blood pressure kits are also available for a low price. And if you are diagnosed, it is important to work with your health care provider to find an appropriate treatment plan.
• Cholesterol management can help decrease the build up of plaque inside blood vessel walls, known as atherosclerosis. If not effectively treated, these plaques can rupture causing occlusion of blood flow. Cell death, or myocardial infarction (MI) can occur within a matter of minutes.
• Smoking cessation. Quitting smoking for 1 year alone can reduce your “heart age” by 14 years!
Additionally, decreasing chronic stress (or our perception and reaction to it), getting 8 hours of sleep a night, and limiting alcohol consumption are also ways that we can decrease our risk for heart disease and stroke.
Heart age helps predict the age of our vascular system based on our cardiovascular risk profile. According to the director of the CDC, Tom Frieden , it “is a understandable simple tool for people to understand their heart risk. For every American, learning heart age can be a clear call to take charge of your health.” Let’s do more to take care of our hearts. From my heart to yours.