Are You Young (or Old) at Heart?

Heart age defines your risk of heart attack
Are You Young (or Old) at Heart?

You might look (or feel) young for your age. But does your heart?

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If you’re like 75 percent of Americans, your heart is aging faster than you, says a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The “older” your heart, the higher your risk for heart attack or stroke.

The study found that one in two U.S. men and two in five U.S. women have a heart age 5 or more years older than their actual age. On average, Americans’ heart ages are 7 years older than they should be.

Some demographic groups fared worse than others. For example, heart ages of African American men and women are an average of 11 years older than their actual ages.

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“It doesn’t surprise me,” says Cleveland Clinic cardiologist David Frid, MD. “We’ve known all along that people’s risk of heart disease is higher than they’d expect. And that’s because people have a lot of risk factors.”

Determining heart age

Heart health risk, or heart age, is determined by a number of factors, including:

  • Age. Your risk of heart disease rises after age 55, partly due to aging blood vessels and lifelong buildup of plaque in your arteries.
  • Gender. Women have a lower risk of heart disease than men, at least before menopause. Estrogen is thought to protect the heart.
  • Family history. Just because a family member had heart disease doesn’t mean you will. But your risk of heart disease increases if your father or brother was diagnosed with it before age 55, or your mother or sister before age 65.
  • Blood pressure. Your heart ages as your blood pressure goes up. Having blood pressure below 120/80 lowers your heart age.
  • Cholesterol. The higher your cholesterol, the higher your heart age. Work with a doctor to manage cholesterol levels.
  • Smoking. Stay away from tobacco — even secondhand smoke — to keep your heart healthy.
  • Body mass index. Extra weight is hard on your heart muscle. To maintain a healthy weight, eat a high-fiber, low-fat, low-sodium diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes, five times per week.
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes puts you at greater risk for heart problems. Your doctor can help you keep diabetes under control.

“Some factors, like family history, you can’t change,” says Dr. Frid. “But there are many other factors you can.”

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You’re never too old to change your risk factors, he says. You can reduce your heart risk — and heart age — at any point.

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