A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than 40 percent of Americans have hearts that are five or more years older than their actual age.

So, what exactly is heart age? “It is determined by plugging in data to an online calculation tool that has been developed by the American Heart Association. It uses age, gender, smoking status, body weight and the presence or absence of risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol to calculate your true heart age,” explains Kevin R Campbell, FACC cardiologist and author of Women and Cardiovascular Disease.

Simply put, the heart age is the actual biologic age of your organ rather than its chronologic age. This World Heart Day (September 29), we help you understand how your heart age is related to your heart.

Why Is The Heart Age Important?
“Heart age is a great estimate of your overall cardiovascular health. Those with significant disparities in heart age and chronologic age are at a much higher risk for significant cardiovascular illnesses,” says Campbell. He adds that it is a great estimate for doctors to discuss risks with patients and motivate them to make lifestyle changes that will improve their heart health.

This is how the CDC calculator works. It asks for gender, age, systolic blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and whether you’re diabetic, have high blood pressure and are a smoker. It then calculates your heart age by assessing all these risk factors. While this test isn’t a medical diagnosis, it does give a general indication of whether you need to take better care of your heart.

Dr James Rippe, cardiologist and founder of The Rippe Lifestyle Institute in Florida, however, cautions against reading too much into the heart age calculator by the CDC.

“Calculating your heart’s age is a little more in-depth. People should not ask how old my heart is but how in-tune I am with my body and my heart? Tools like the heart age calculator are great for those who want to have an idea of where their heart health stands. Everyone has a physiological age and to determine that age, you need to be in tune with your body. For example, ask yourself—do my fitness levels match my age, is my fitness better or worse, and how have I managed my risk for heart disease,” he says.

What Can You Do?
Should you care if our heart is aging faster than your body? Yes, you should. An ‘older’ heart indicates an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack or a stroke. But the good news is (most doctors will tell you) that heart disease can be prevented or delayed by managing or controlling cardiovascular risk factors.

“There are no shortcuts or tricks to ensure your heart is at a healthy age—just good old fashioned diet, exercise and being in-tune with your body. Your heart’s age is determined by eating right, being physically active and taking care of your body by not smoking and other such factors,” says Dr Rippe.

The most important thing to do is a change in lifestyle—increase the amount of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, eat heart-healthy foods such as fruit and veggies, lean proteins and less of unhealthy fats and salts. It is also necessary to get eight hours of sleep a night and cut down the alcohol consumption.

Campbell says that post an initial check, it is important to decide where your risk lies and after making changes, calculate it again after six months.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Diseases & Conditions here.

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