According to a recent study, many Americans’ hearts show wear and tear far beyond their years. In fact, tools developed by cardiologists to measure “heart age” have shown that the organ might be performing on par with someone decades older.
Heart age is a measure of the heart’s function relative to the patient’s actual age, gauging the ability of the organ to continue operating normally and without incident. Wear and tear often weakens the heart over time as we age, but increasing that decline can mean early-onset heart disease or a heart attack at a young age.
Experts say that patient awareness of this phenomenon may hold the key to treating, reversing or preventing heart failure. Fortunately, there are calculators you can use to gauge your heart age.
“Many reputable sources have risk score calculators that can make a difference,” said David Shipon, M.D., FACC, the Director of Preventive Cardiology and Cardiovascular Rehabilitation at Jefferson Health. “It’s important for a patient to know what their risk is and how they can reduce it over time.”
Heart risk calculators utilize risk factors for heart disease to provide an assessment of your risk level for a heart event. The factors analyzed can include height, weight, family or personal history of diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol and activity level, among others. An even more exact risk can be established by adding targeted heart tests like an electrocardiogram, stress test or any other screening that reveals diseased arteries.
“It’s a combination of risk factor assessment, laboratory tests, and targeted heart tests that most precisely establishes a patient’s risk for heart disease,” said Dr. Shipon.
He also pointed out that someone who has a family history of heart disease or heart attacks might see genetics as the biggest hurdle. But lifestyle factors such as smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating habits, and life’s stressors can also compound the risk by multiples.
Environmental factors also have a considerable impact on future heart health. For example, children in certain communities are more prone to obesity and hypertension than others.
“Parents should begin monitoring their children and encouraging heart-healthy habits early,” said Dr. Shipon. “Generational heart health is the goal. If you can reduce risk early on, that decreases the chance of ever having damage or serious events.”
Understanding Your Results
A clear picture of a patient’s risk helps to illustrate the need for taking medications correctly and regularly, improving their diet and exercise regimen and quitting risky habits like smoking.
“Knowing your risk for a stroke or heart attack can inspire you to take the necessary steps to reduce that risk,” said Dr. Shipon.
Getting on the Right Track
It is possible to lower your risk by simply following a heart-healthy lifestyle. Plaque in the arteries can be stabilized and risk factors can be diminished with a calm mindset, proper diet, regular exercise, and the appropriate medications or supplements.
“Every positive change can help prevent heart disease and promote a long healthy life,” said Dr. Shipon.