How Old is Your Heart?
It’s time for your ticker to reveal its true age
Frank Sinatra wasn’t a doctor. But he may have been on to something with the tune Young At Heart.
As it turns out, the age of your heart is connected to the health of your heart. What’s even more interesting: you and your heart might not be the same age.
You read that right: your heart may actually be older or younger than you are.
“The most common reason for a heart age older than a person’s actual age is the presence of certain risk factors that increase the chance of having a heart attack or suffering a stroke,” said Jean Ekwenibe, MD, a cardiology specialist at Adena. “Heart age calculators can be used in adults aged 30-74 years old. Ideally, you want a heart age that is the same or younger than your actual age.
When we were young
When you think about youth, you probably don’t think about heart issues. But your younger self can impact the health of your older self. From an early age, people can build up plaque (fatty deposits) in their arteries from poor diets and a lack of regular exercise. It is important (and never too late) to start and maintain a healthy lifestyle, even if you didn’t do it as a kid.
Know the numbers
Unfortunately, most Americans are not as young at heart as they might like to believe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American’s heart is seven years older than it should be. Other humbling statistics include:
- 1 in 2 men have a heart age 5 or more years older than their actual age.
- 2 in 5 women have a heart age 5 or more years older than their actual age.
- About 3 in 4 heart attacks and strokes are due to risk factors that increase heart age.
Heart age is a simple way for you to understand your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Your heart age is calculated based on your risk factors for heart disease. such as age, blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as diet, physical activity and smoking. A younger heart age means a lower risk of heart disease.
Know your numbers
Knowing the age of your heart starts with knowing your numbers. Regular check-ups and screenings are the first steps. Take our quick heart health assessment to see how old your heart is.
How to be young(er) at heart
Cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States. Often, those who die from a heart attack or stroke had no prior symptoms.
Now that you know your heart a little better, you can start taking steps (literally) to improve it. Start by choosing a risk factor or two that you’re ready to change and focus on improving them first. Some risk factors you can’t control, such as age, gender, related health issues and family history. Others are yours for the taking.
These may include:
- High blood pressure – Often with no symptoms, high blood pressure can usually be tackled with diet and exercise. It’s important to start with a visit your doctor to get it checked out.
- High cholesterol – High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. Understanding your levels, and how to reduce your bad cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins or LDL), which can accumulate in our arteries, and increase good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDL), which can carry cholesterol back to the liver, can reduce your risk.
- Diabetes – If you are diabetic, work with your doctor to manage it.
- Tobacco use – If you don’t smoke, please never, ever start. And if you do smoke, get help to quit.
- Unhealthy eating – It’s no secret that fast food is bad. Healthy foods that are high in fiber and low in fat are ideal for your heart health. This includes foods like fruits and vegetables. Eating moderate portions at regular mealtimes is also important. So is avoiding in-between meal snacks.
- Inactivity – Get moving! Start slow and build to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as walking) every week.
- Obesity – If you’re overweight, it’s time to battle the bulge. Even losing 10% of your body weight can add years to your life…and your heart.
Your heart matters
In today’s busy world, focusing on our heart health is not always easy. However, building better habits can help your heart health. It’s never too late to recapture the kid in you. Work with your doctor to make heart-healthy choices for a lower heart age.
“The first step is to commit to take action,” said Dr. Ekwenibe. “Everyone in our society today is extremely busy, however, routine doctor visits are so important in order to have preventive care screenings and to know your numbers. You can then focus on changing or eliminating one or two risk factors. You can improve your outcomes, so work with your doctor to make heart healthy choices for a lower heart age.”