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What is the actual age of your heart?

CDC study finds nearly half of American adults have a "heart age" older than their actual age

By Thomas Kottke, MD, MSPH
November 13, 2017

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Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say your heart might be older than you are.

Heart age” is calculated based on your risk for having a heart attack or stroke. Heart age increases if you smoke, eat poorly, don’t exercise or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity. Why? Because 75 percent of all heart attacks and strokes link back to these risk factors.

The CDC researchers looked at the Framingham Heart Study and data collected across the country and, in 2015, found that nearly 69 million of us in the United States who are between the ages of 30 and 74 have a "heart age" at least 5 years older than our actual age.

Although it’s sad, this doesn’t surprise me. Many cultures have very little heart disease. Japan is a prime example of this. And even within the United States, heart disease rates vary markedly. They are lowest in vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists. But they are highest among people who live in the Southeast region of our country.

Here are the top 3 questions I get about heart age, and how I answer them:

  1. Why can high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking cigarettes and obesity age your heart?

    High blood pressure strains your heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure. High cholesterol narrows your arteries. And smoking causes blood to clot your heart’s arteries. All of this, in essence, ages your heart and puts you at risk of developing symptoms of heart disease or ultimately dying.

  2. Can you reverse the “aging” of your heart?

    Yes, it is certainly possible to reverse the “age” of your heart. Stop smoking or using tobacco. Get in the habit of eating a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and plant (olive or canola) oil. Adopt a routine of daily physical activity. And if you need help controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol, work with your doctor and clinic team. Practicing gratitude, kindness and appreciation will make you feel better. And feeling better about yourself will make you want to work to reduce your heart age.

  3. Making life changes can be challenging. Do you have any tips for taking a first step toward a healthier lifestyle?

    Make a list of your long-term goals. And then make a list of what you need to do to achieve the goals. Put these lists on your refrigerator.

    Also, make a list of the people and situations that cause you to make healthy decisions. And make a list of what causes you to make unhealthy ones. Make a point of spending more time with the people and situations that cause you to make unhealthy decisions.

About Thomas Kottke, MD, MSPH

Dr. Thomas Kottke is a cardiologist, epidemiologist and the Medical Director for Well-Being at HealthPartners Health Plan. He has been a researcher with our organization since 2005. Dr. Kottke has a special interest in promoting well-being through lifestyle interventions such as smoking cessation. He also enjoys promoting well-being and addressing the social determinants of health. Dr. Kottke believes that children’s health is important because a good start at the very beginning increases opportunities for well-being throughout the rest of life. Outside of work, he and his wife like to bicycle and tend their forest in northern Minnesota.

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