This is a guest post form Dr. Anita Bennett MD with eDoc America.
February is Heart Month, so I am trying to use this month to focus on topics that might help raise awareness about our heart health. One way to understand your risk for a heart attack or stroke is to learn your "heart age." This is an easy way for us to talk about your risk for cardiovascular disease. Most US adults have a heart age older than their actual age, which puts them at higher risk for having a heart attack or stroke. Let's talk about how to learn your heart age, and how that might help you improve your health.
What is your heart age?
Heart age is a way to express the relative age of your heart and blood vessels, based on your risk factors for heart attack and stroke. There are some things that affect your risk for heart attack or stroke over which you have no control, such as your age or your family history. There are a number of things that affect your heart age, which are within your control.
To calculate your heart age, click the link below. Once at the site, scroll down to the Interactive Risk Score Calculators. If you know your cholesterol numbers, you can do the one "using lipids". The other uses your BMI (based on your height and weight). Ideally, you would do both, and average them. I'll put a link to a BMI calculator at the bottom of the page, in case you need it.
The Framingham Heart Study
What risk factors affect your heart age?
- Age – Obviously, this is something that you cannot control or change. Ideally, you want your heart age to be the same as, or even younger than your actual age.
- Blood pressure – Having high blood pressure significantly increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. If you have high blood pressure, managing your blood pressure by taking medications and making lifestyle changes can decrease your risk and make your heart "younger."
- Smoking – Smoking damages the blood vessels and can cause cardiovascular disease.
- Cholesterol levels – High blood cholesterol can increase the risk for heart disease. Sometimes high cholesterol levels are hereditary, but there are many things that contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels, such as diabetes, obesity, eating unhealthy foods, and not getting enough physical activity.
- Diabetes – Diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves that control the heart muscle.
- Obesity – More than 1 in 3 Americans has obesity, including 1 in 6 children. Carrying extra weight puts stress on the heart. It also adversely affects your blood cholesterol levels.
- Physical activity – Being physically inactive increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. The current guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Your heart needs a work out to stay strong, just like other muscles. Your blood vessels also benefit from that physical activity.
What can you do to improve your heart age?
Start by choosing a risk factor that you are ready to change. That might be quitting smoking, or losing weight, or it might be getting your high blood pressure under better control.
Work with your doctor to help improve that risk factor. Your family doctor can help you to improve any of the risk factors that I listed above.
As soon as you're ready, choose another one!
You can start at any age to lower your heart age. The earlier the better!
To calculate your BMI, use this link.