How old is your heart? It matters for your health!

heartIn recent years, public health researchers have developed a novel framework for identifying the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It’s called “heart age.”

Developed by researchers of the Framingham Heart Study, the measurement calculates the age of a person’s cardiovascular system based on risk factors including blood pressure, smoking status, diabetes status, and body mass index. Researchers found that people who were told their heart age were significantly more likely to make choices to improve their health, compared to people who were told their risk of developing heart disease.

This year, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducted a study to estimate heart age of people across America and reveal disparities in heart health.  In their study, they calculated the heart age of more than 600,000 Americans from all 50 states. They found that nearly 69 million adults between the ages of 30 and 74 have a heart age older than their actual age.

And they found major disparities in heart age across the country:

  • Women fare slightly better than men. On average, men’s hearts are 7.8 years older than their chronological ages and women’s hearts are 5.4 years older than their chronological age.
  • Minorities’ hearts were, on average, older compared to hearts of white people. The difference between heart age and chronological age is highest among African-American men and women (average of 11 years older for both).
  • Among both U.S. men and women, excess heart age increases with age and decreases with greater education and household income.
  • Average heart age differs across states. Adults in southern parts of the S. typically have higher heart ages. For example, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama have the highest percentage of adults with a heart age 5 years or more over their actual age, while Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts have the lowest percentage.

The take home message: Thinking about cardiovascular health in terms of heart age is a powerful way to understand our health and risk factors, both individually and from a public health perspective.

With a little bit of information, including your blood pressure and body mass index, you can calculate your own heart age.  It’s worth checking out!

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