‘Heart age’ older than actual age for most Americans

2 Sep

A new report suggests that three-quarters of American adults have “heart ages” that are older than their actual ages, leaving them at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke.

A man is clutching his chest.
Around 69 million American adults aged 30-74 are estimated to have heart ages that are older than their chronological ages.

An individual’s heart age represents the age of their cardiovascular system and is calculated by looking at their risk factor profile – whether the individual is affected by risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cigarette smoking.

The new Vital Signs report was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is the first study to illustrate differences in heart age across the US at a population level.

The researchers state that around 69 million adults aged 30-74 have a heart age that is older than their actual age – equivalent to the combined population of the 130 biggest cities in the US.

“Too many US adults have a heart age years older than their real age, increasing their risk of heart disease and stroke,” reports CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “Everybody deserves to be young – or at least not old – at heart.”

Researchers utilized risk factor data obtained from every US state and the long-running Framingham Heart Study – a research project that began in 1948 to identify common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease.

They found that, on average, heart age for adult men is 8 years older than their actual age, while heart age for adult women is around 5 years older than their chronological age. For men and women alike, excess heart age rises with age and falls with higher levels of education and household income.

Although heart age exceeds chronological age on average across all racial and ethnic groups in the US, the researchers found that excess heart age was highest among African-American men and women, with heart ages 11 years older than chronological ages on average.

Average heart ages vary from state to state

Geographical differences were also noted across the country. The five states with the highest percentage of adults with heart ages 5 or more years older than their chronological ages were Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama.

In contrast, Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts had the lowest percentage of adults with heart ages 5 or more years older than their chronological ages.

These results represent a significant national problem, but awareness of heart age could lead to improvements in heart health on both individual and population levels.

If an individual learns that their heart age is higher than their chronological age, for example, they may think about making lifestyle changes and seeking treatment before any cardiovascular disease-related problems occur.

Barbara A. Bowman, director of the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, explains that a lack of cardiovascular health awareness is putting many adults at risk:

“Because so many US adults don’t understand their cardiovascular disease risk, they are missing out on early opportunities to prevent future heart attacks or strokes. About 3 in 4 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.”

As part of the Framingham Heart Study, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University have developed a heart age predictor that uses your body mass index (BMI) score and systolic blood pressure to calculate your heart age. This tool can be used by people aged 30-86 years.

Previously, Medical News Today reported on a study finding that the rate of aging can be tracked in early adulthood, not just later in life. In the study, the authors observed a difference between participants’ biological ages and chronological ages.

Written by James McIntosh

Copyright: Medical News Today

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