Heart age is higher than actual age in most men and women, so many don’t understand their risk of cardiovascular diseases and are missing opportunities to prevent them.
Most adult Americans, especially men and African Americans, have a heart age that is higher than their actual age, according to a new CDC Vital Signs report.
This is the first study to provide population-level estimates of heart age and to highlight disparities in heart age nationwide.
CDC researchers used risk factor data collected from every state and information from the Framingham Heart Study to determine that nearly 69 million adults between ages 30 and 74 years have a heart age older than their actual age.
“Because so many US adults don’t understand their cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, they are missing out on early opportunities to prevent future heart attacks or strokes,” said Barbara A. Bowman, PhD, director of CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. “About three in four heart attacks and strokes are due to risk factors that increase heart age, so it’s important to continue focusing on efforts to improve heart health and increase access to early and affordable detection and treatment resources nationwide.”
Studies show that for both men and women, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the largest contributor to CVD morbidity and mortality. More men are living with and dying of CHD than women and have more hospital discharges for CVD and CHD; more women are living with and dying of CVD and stroke than men.
The prevalence of CHD is higher in men until after age 75 years, which may contribute to the perception that heart disease is a man’s disease. CVD tends to develop 7 to 10 years later in women than in men.
Among the key findings in the report, the average heart age for adult men is 8 years older than their chronological age, compared with 5 years older for women. The men and women were just under 48 years on average, but the men’s hearts more closely resembled the hearts of men almost 56 years old, and the women’s hearts looked more like 53-year-olds’ hearts.
Although heart age exceeds chronological age for all race/ethnic groups, it is highest among African-American men and women (average of 11 years older for both).
Men in certain ethnic groups are more likely to have risk factors that increase their heart age than are women, according to the report. More African American men are smokers (26%) than African American women (18%). Similarly, more Hispanic men smoke (18%) than do Hispanic women (10%). Non-Hispanic white men are more likely to have hypertension (32%) than are women (25%), and they have a much higher percentage of diabetes (76%) than non-Hispanic women (56%).
Excess heart age increases with age and decreases with greater education and household income among US men and women, the report noted.
Also, there are geographic differences in average heart age across states. Adults in the Southern United States typically have higher heart ages. The highest percentages of adults with a heart age 5 years or more over their actual age are in Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama. The lowest percentages are in Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.