Your heart may be older than you are – and that’s not good. According to a new CDC Vital Signs report, 3 out of 4 U.S. adults have a predicted heart age that is older than their actual age. This means they are at higher risk for heart attacks and stroke.
“Heart age” is the calculated age of a person’s cardiovascular system based on his or her risk factor profile. The risks include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes status, and body mass index as an indicator for obesity.
This is the first study to provide population-level estimates of heart age and to highlight disparities in heart age nationwide. The report shows that heart age varies by race/ethnicity, gender, region, and other socio-demographic characteristics
CDC researchers used risk factor data collected from every U.S. state and information from the Framingham Heart Study to determine that nearly 69 million adults between the ages of 30 and 74 have a heart age older than their actual age. That’s about the number of people living in the 130 largest U.S. cities combined.
“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 Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Everybody deserves to be young – or at least not old – at heart.”
Key findings in the report include:
- Overall, the average heart age for adult men is 8 years older than their chronological age, compared to 5 years older for women.
- Although heart age exceeds chronological age for all race/ethnic groups, it 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.
- There are geographic differences in average heart age across states. Adults in the Southern U.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.
Learn your heart age
The heart age concept was created to more effectively communicate a person’s risk of dying from heart attack or stroke – and to show what can be done to lower that risk. Despite the serious national problem of higher heart age, the report’s findings can be used on both an individual and population level to boost heart health, particularly among groups that are most at risk of poor cardiovascular outcomes.
Healthcare providers can use cardiovascular risk assessment calculators to inform treatment decisions and work with patients on healthy habits. For example, a 53-year-old woman might find out through her doctor that her heart age is 68 because she smokes and has uncontrolled high blood pressure. Her doctor could then talk with her about finding a quit-smoking program that is right for her, and about life-style changes and medications that would put her in charge of her blood pressure.
U.S. adults can learn their own heart age and how to improve it. This could include quitting smoking or lowering blood pressure through eating a healthier diet, taking appropriate medication, or exercising more. State and local health departments can help by promoting healthier living spaces, such as tobacco-free areas, more access to healthy food options, and safe walking paths.
“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.”
Visit millionhearts.hhs.gov to learn about Million Hearts, a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.