With one-third of Americans obese, the U.S. now ranks 30th in the world for life expectancy, the New York Times noted earlier this year. So it may not come as a surprise that roughly half of Americans have hearts that are at least five years older than their actual age.
So reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calculates heart age by looking at risk factors for heart disease, including age, weight, smoking status and systolic (the top number) blood pressure. The major finding is that half of men have hearts at least five years older than their actual age, while almost half of women do. Two examples given: A 50-year-old obese male smoker with an untreated systolic blood pressure of 140, without diabetes, has a predicted heart age of 72, while a woman with the same risks has a heart age of 74.
One cardiologist tells WebMD that people should try to maintain a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol level and body weight, as well as engage in regular physical activity and avoid smoking to help turn back the clock — but that's easier said than done.
"Changing behaviors is well known to be one of the hardest things to do," another cardiologist tells USA Today. "It's a lot easier to get someone to take a pill."
The hope is that people will be more proactive about making lifestyle changes if they learn how old their heart age is, a number that can serve as a "wake up" call, one doctor says. Another isn't so sure that heart age does the trick, calling the calculator a "gimmick." Either way, concludes the CDC, U.S. adults have hearts that are much older than they should be.
(In related news, this study finds the worst fats for your heart.)