Your heart age may not correlate to your actual age. Here's what to know.
Did you know your heart may be older than you are? Not literally, but researchers do calculate how old your heart is to determine your cardiovascular health. Your "heart age" is a valuable metric to understand and assess your risk for heart disease, heart attack or stroke based on your risk factor profile.
To determine your heart age at home, you can use an online heart age calculator that considers factors like gender, age, weight, systolic blood pressure (measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats) and health conditions that significantly impact your heart age. While this calculator gives you a general overview of your heart health, it's best to get your heart regularly screened by a medical professional.
Below we'll look at the main factors that determine your heart age and lifestyle changes you can make to make your heart younger. You can also check out our guide to find out how healthy your heart is without equipment and how to lower your risk for heart disease.
External factors like stress and physical activity can affect your heart age. However, other components like health conditions also have an impact.
Stress may also contribute to an aging heart, as one study on marital stress suggested. Changes in marital quality and cardiovascular risk were closely related in older married couples. On the same note, people going through divorce may have a higher risk of heart attacks. Johns Hopkins Medicine also says that stress can raise your risk for heart health issues since stress increases inflammation in your body, which can in turn affect blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding salty foods and non-heart healthy foods like processed meats and sugary foods as these foods can contribute to high blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (also known as "bad") cholesterol. Heart-healthy foods include veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains and lean proteins like fish and legumes, which help keep your heart in optimal shape.
One of the main factors in determining heart age is high blood pressure. But the CDC states not getting quality sleep raises your overall blood pressure. This is because during quality sleep, your blood pressure goes down. If you're not sleeping well or much, you may have higher blood pressure for longer, putting more stress on your heart.
Blood pressure can have a big impact on your heart age. The CDC listed a case of one woman who was 53 chronologically. Her biological heart age was 75 because she was a smoker and had high blood pressure. If I put my usual stats in the NYC Health heart calculator but adjust my systolic blood pressure to 200, my heart age then becomes 64.
Hypertension is so closely linked to heart age that a study funded by the National Institute of Health found that maintaining systolic blood pressure to less than 120 in adults that are 50 and older can greatly reduce reduced the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and even death.
A 2019 study showed that physical activity may contribute to a lower heart age. The Mayo Clinic recommends adding 150 minutes of exercise weekly to lower your heart age and reduce cardiovascular risk. Exercise can also directly lower blood pressure, another contributing factor to heart age. Adding physical activity can include anything from indoor workout videos to chores around the house.
Smoking is one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease and can largely impact your heart's age. If I put in the usual stats with the NYC Health heart rate calculator but list that I smoke, my heart age goes up to 47 this time. You might be thinking, "smoking affects my lungs, what does it have to do with my heart?" A lot. Smoking can increase the buildup of plaque inside of the walls of your blood vessels. Also, chemicals in found in cigarette smoke may cause your blood to form clots inside the arteries. All of this can contribute to an increase of your heart age.
Finally, higher cholesterol levels can also raise your heart age. The heart age calculator through the American Heart Association lists LDL and HDL cholesterol as a significant factor in determining your heart age and health. And the Mayo Clinic also lists cholesterol levels as a health factor in your heart age. High cholesterol levels contribute to the deposit of fatty substances in your blood vessels, making it hard for blood to flow through your arteries.
As shown above, your heart age does not always correlate to your chronological age. You can make lifestyle changes to lower your heart age. While you may have a physically aging heart, more youthful health practices can help lower your heart age. Some tips listed by the Mayo Clinic include: