There’s a new study after your own heart, and not necessarily in a good way. The average man’s heart is about 7.8 years older than his actual age, according to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. And for women, the average heart age is 5.4 years higher than their calendar age.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s address what a heart age actually is. Experts from the Framingham Heart Study developed the concept “as a way to help regular folks understand their risk of having a heart attack, stroke, chest pain, peripheral artery disease or another heart-related condition, including death,” the LA Times reports. It's based on cardiovascular risk factors like whether you smoke, if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or are obese. Basically, this calculates your risk of having or dying from a heart attack, and gives you an indication of your overall heart health.
The CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention calculated the heart age of over 236,000 men and 342,000 women between the ages of 30 and 74 who had never suffered a heart attack or stroke, or had heart disease—to estimate the heart age of American adults. They wanted to see how those ages differed according to where people live, their level of education, how much money they have, and their racial and ethnic backgrounds. Researchers also used data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System—a survey in which participants report their age, smoking habits, BMI, whether they have diabetes, their blood pressure, and the like.
The results: 48.8 percent of men and 38.5 percent of women—an estimated 69.1 million Americans total—had a heart age that was at least five years older than their calendar age, according to the LA Times.
The older someone was, the larger the gap between their chronological age and heart age. However, the gap shrank as education and household income rose, and depending on geography. There's no indication why, but the heart gap was smallest for men and women living in Utah (men’s hearts averaged 5.8 excess years; women’s hearts averaged 2.8 excess years; while men and women living in Mississippi experienced the largest heart gap (men’s hearts averaged 10.1 years; women’s hearts averaged 9.1 years.)
The good news: Though you can’t turn back the clocks on your chronological age, you can reduce your heart age. Consider this scenario: A 50-year-old man who has high blood pressure, smokes, and is borderline obese will likely have a heart age of 72. But if he quits smoking and takes medication to lower his blood pressure, he can drop 19 years from his heart age, say the researchers (though how long that will take, they do not say.) Not too bad, huh?
Curious about your heart age? Use the Framingham Heart Study calculator to see where you fall on the spectrum.