As a new way of looking at your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a sobering nationwide statistic recently on the "age" of your heart, the vital organ that we insist on abusing through smoking, rich food or other excesses.
Because of these factors and others, U.S. men's hearts are an average of 7.8 years older than the men's chronological ages. Women do a little better, with hearts an average of 5.4 years older than chronological age.
The effort is an attempt to more clearly show the urgency of controlling factors that affect heart health and the ability of individuals to do so. One study showed that when "heart age" was used to explain patients' risk of cardiovascular disease, they reduced their risk more than when those factors were described in other ways.
"You can't turn back the clock in general, but you can turn back the clock on your heart age," CDC Director Tom Frieden said.
The first national survey to determine heart health in this way, the study considered more than 578,000 people ages 30 to 74. It showed that heart health is even worse for minorities, the poor and the less educated. Black men's hearts, for example, are an average of 11 years older than their chronological age, and black women's hearts are 11.1 years older. African-Americans typically score worse than whites in other research on heart health.
Hispanics are only slightly less healthy than whites, the study showed, and "other" races have slightly more healthy hearts than whites do.
When broken down by state, the research revealed that people in Utah fare best, with hearts that are only an average of 4.3 years older than they are. Mississippians have the least healthy hearts, at 9.6 years older than they are. Many of the worst state scores were clustered in the Southeast, a finding that mirrors other regional studies of health.
Overall, the average heart in the United States is 6.6 years older than its owner's chronological age. About 30 percent of Americans have hearts younger than their chronological age, Frieden said.
Heart disease and strokes are the leading causes of death in the United States, killing nearly 800,000 people every year. Cardiovascular disease costs the medical system about $320 billion annually, according to the CDC report. But much of what causes heart disease is controllable by measures that include quitting smoking, lowering blood pressure and adopting more healthful lifestyles.
The study says that more than three in every four heart attacks and strokes could be avoided or postponed if people managed or controlled such risk factors.
To calculate Americans' heart age, the CDC examined each person's age and body mass index, as well as whether he or she has diabetes, smokes or uses medication to control blood pressure. The average age of people in the study was 47.8 for men and 47.9 for women. But the men's hearts were 55.6 years old and women's were 53.3 years old, according to the research.
The study pointed out that a 50-year-old man with a variety of risk factors could lower his heart age by 14 years by quitting smoking for a year, and another six years by controlling his blood pressure.
These "are things that are really within our power," Frieden said. "Most Americans who have ever smoked have already quit. And most people who still smoke want to quit."
To learn your heart age, go to: nwsdy.li/ageheart