February is Heart Month, sponsored annually by the American Heart Association to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease – which remains the No. 1 killer of both men and women in this country.
One way to determine your personal risk for a heart attack or stroke is to learn your “heart age,” defined as the age of your heart and blood vessels based on your specific risk factors. Unfortunately, a sobering statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] is that the heart age of most American adults is significantly older than the number of birthdays they’ve celebrated.
Half of adult men in the U.S., and two in five women, have a heart age 5 or more years older than their actual age, according to CDC estimates. The average is 7 years older.
About 75% of heart attacks and strokes are due to risk factors that increase heart age … and many of them are now present in Americans in their thirties, forties and fifties.
While some of those risk factors are not under your control – such as your actual age or your family’s history of heart disease – there are many others that can be changed. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a smoking habit, obesity, diabetes, an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are all areas where, with lifestyle changes and help from your doctor, you can lower your heart age along with your heart disease risk.
According to CDC recommendations, the first step in this process may be to choose a risk factor or two that you’re ready to change, like quitting smoking or losing excess weight, and focus on improving those first. It’s also important to work with your doctor to address key heart health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes.
The Heart Age Predictor is a free online tool that calculates your heart age. It was adapted from the Framingham Study Heart Age Calculator, and is available online at cdc.gov/heartdisease/heartage.htm.