Heart health

Is your heart ageing faster than you?

Retro heart
Retro heart

In South Africa one in three adults suffer from hypertension from as young as 15 years and up and in America three out of four adults have a heart that's "older" than their years, raising their risk for heart attack or stroke.

Your "heart age" is based on a risk profile that includes blood pressure, smoking history, diabetes and body mass index.

"Half of U.S. men and nearly half of U.S. women have a heart age five or more years older than their chronological age," Dr Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a media briefing.

Read: Are you at risk of heart attack?

The idea of heart age was created to communicate a person's risk of dying from heart attack or stroke, and to show how to lower that risk.

Doctors can use risk assessment calculators to aid treatment decisions and encourage patients to adopt healthy habits, he explained.

A 53-year-old woman may learn her heart age is 75. "That's because she smokes and has uncontrolled high blood pressure," Frieden said.

Or a 45-year-old man might find out that his heart is 30 years older than he is because he has untreated high blood pressure, smokes and has diabetes.

"For that woman or that man, learning your heart age can be a call to take charge of your health," Frieden said.

Test yourself: What's my risk for hypertension?

Turning back the clock

Back in 2013 the SA's Health minister signed a legislation to reduce salt intake in SA by 2020, having the food industry sign the legislator, the Heart and Stroke Foundation reported. 

While in the U.S, maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body weight, engaging in regular physical activity and not smoking will help turn back the clock, said Dr Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Individuals can take proactive steps to reduce their heart age and as a result live longer and healthier lives, free from heart disease and stroke," Fonarow said.

It's never too late, Frieden added, noting a 50-year-old smoker who quits can gain 14 years of heart life.

The findings from the new report can also be used to boost heart health among groups at the highest risk of heart attack and stroke, Frieden said.

State and local health departments can help by promoting healthier living spaces, such as tobacco-free areas, more access to healthy food options, and safe places to walk, he said.

For the Vital Signs report, CDC researchers used risk factor data from every state and information from the Framingham Heart Study.

Read: Do you know your heart age? 

Comparing the key findings in SA and the U.S.

- Every hour one in five people in SA suffer from a heart attack, 10 people have strokes and 10 people die from heart related diseases

- Cardiovascular disease is one of the major killers where one in four women below 60 suffer from some sort of heart condition 

- The average adult man has a heart age eight years older than his chronological age. The average woman's heart is five years older.

- On average, heart age exceeds chronological age in all racial/ethnic groups. It's highest among blacks (average of 11 years older for men and women).

- Among men and women, excess heart age decreases with increased education and increased income.

Heart disease and stroke remain leading causes of death, disability and health care expenditures for men and women around the world. However, the majority of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and strokes are preventable.

Read more:

Hypertension? Coffee could increase your heart attack risk

Healthy eating key to healthy lifestyle

Lifestyle and medication for heart disease

Image: Retro heart from iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24