Image credit: PeterHermesFurian

The assumed age of a person’s heart could motivate more people to adopt healthier lifestyles. A federal analysis revealed that the chronological “heart” age of many U.S. adults aged 30 and older is much lower than their “predicted” heart age.

Cardiovascular disease costs the United States about $320 billion and leads to 800,000 fatalities each year. Risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes all contribute to hearts older than their actual age, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in the Sept. 4 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Heart age is defined by CDC as “the predicted age of a person's vascular system based on their cardiovascular risk factor profile.”

Collecting weighted 2011 and 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data from each state, CDC applied Framingham Heart Study risk score models to estimate heart age among men and women, various race and ethnic groups, educational and income levels, and also by state. According to CDC’s projections, nearly 70 million adults who have yet to experience stroke or heart attack have a predicted heart age that exceeds their chronological heart age by 5 years.

On average, the estimated heart age for men exceeded the actual age of their hearts by nearly 8 years. Predicted heart age was highest among black and Hispanic men, compared with white men. Women fared slightly better; their assumed heart age was 5.4 years older than actual age, although assumed heart age for white women was lower than for black and Hispanic women.

“Excess heart age increased with age and decreased as education and household income increased,” the MMWR report stated. Some disparities were also reported among the states. In Mississippi, excess heart age was 10.1 years for men and 9.1 years for women, compared with Utah, which had the lowest excess heart ages for men and women: 5.8 and 2.8 years, respectively.

From these findings, CDC suggests that excess or predicted heart age would serve as a useful tool in encouraging people to adopt healthier habits and do a better job in complying with therapeutic interventions. It might also incentivize communities to develop programs that would foster heart health.