Healthy Living

Young at Heart: Does Your Real Age Match Your Heart Age?

Jan. 29, 2016

So age is just a number and you feel young at heart. But does that match up with the way your doctor calculates your heart age?

Happy middle-aged African American coupleIf you’re among the 75 percent of Americans whose heart age averages 7 years older than their actual age, you’re at greater risk for heart disease.

UR Medicine cardiologist Dr. Seth Jacobson answers questions about heart age and what it says about cardiovascular health and risk of heart attack or stroke.

Health Matters: What is heart age?

Jacobson:  It’s a representation of your 10-year risk for cardiovascular disease. When translated into age, it allows us to see how our family history and personal choices impact our heart.

The concept was developed by scientists leading the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed more than 575,000 suburban Boston residents for nearly 70 years, analyzing risk factors for heart disease. Over the years, the researchers developed a powerful prospective database of risk factors and quality information for physicians.

Health Matters: How is heart age calculated?

Jacobson:  There are online heart age calculators that calculate the 10-year risk of heart disease by assessing gender, age, family history of heart disease, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI) and your history of smoking or diabetes.

It’s ideal for your heart age to be the same as, or younger than, your true age. Though that doesn’t ring true for most of us.

In fact, men typically have a heart age 8 years older than their actual age; for women it’s 4 years.  The numbers are startling for African Americans, who see heart age as 11 years older, primarily because this population has a greater percentage of people with diabetes, obesity and untreated hypertension.

Health Matters: Is this tool the best way to determine our risk for heart disease?

Jacobson:  Heart age calculators are a simple approach to determine risk. They don’t take into account whether you are a former smoker or whether you were trim for many years but gained weight recently. But they are still a useful tool.

I encourage people to manipulate the numbers they enter into the tool to see how lifestyle changes can improve heart health. If you lower your blood pressure, cholesterol or BMI numbers, you should see a reduction in your heart age as well.

If you are surprised by your heart age, I urge you to talk with your primary care doctor about ways to improve your health. (Check out Five Surprising Tips for a Healthier Heart.)

Don’t have a primary care doctor? Click here for help finding one near where you live or work.

Seth Jacbonson, MD

Cardiologist Seth Jacobson, M.D., is a member of UR Medicine Heart & Vascular’s Rochester Cardiopulmonary Group and medical director for cardiac rehabilitation at the University of Rochester Medical Center.