'Heart age' older than actual age for most Americans
A new report suggests that three-quarters of American adults have "heart ages" that are older than their actual ages, leaving them at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke.
An individual's heart age represents the age of their cardiovascular system and is calculated by looking at their risk factor profile - whether the individual is affected by risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cigarette smoking.
The new Vital Signs report was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is the first study to illustrate differences in heart age across the US at a population level.
The researchers state that around 69 million adults aged 30-74 have a heart age that is older than their actual age - equivalent to the combined population of the 130 biggest cities in the US.
"Too many US adults have a heart age years older than their real age, increasing their risk of heart disease and stroke," reports CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. "Everybody deserves to be young - or at least not old - at heart."
Researchers utilized risk factor data obtained from every US state and the long-running Framingham Heart Study - a research project that began in 1948 to identify common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease.
They found that, on average, heart age for adult men is 8 years older than their actual age, while heart age for adult women is around 5 years older than their chronological age. For men and women alike, excess heart age rises with age and falls with higher levels of education and household income.
Although heart age exceeds chronological age on average across all racial and ethnic groups in the US, the researchers found that excess heart age was highest among African-American men and women, with heart ages 11 years older than chronological ages on average.
Average heart ages vary from state to state
Geographical differences were also noted across the country. The five states with the highest percentage of adults with heart ages 5 or more years older than their chronological ages were Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama.
In contrast, Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts had the lowest percentage of adults with heart ages 5 or more years older than their chronological ages.
These results represent a significant national problem, but awareness of heart age could lead to improvements in heart health on both individual and population levels.
If an individual learns that their heart age is higher than their chronological age, for example, they may think about making lifestyle changes and seeking treatment before any cardiovascular disease-related problems occur.