“One-tenth of 50-year-old men have a heart age 10 years older than they are,” BBC News reports. This is the finding of an analysis of 1.2 million people who used the NHS Heart Age Test.
The principle behind the test is that you can “age” your heart through unhealthy behaviour such as smoking and being obese.
Underlying conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which often have no noticeable symptoms, can also age the heart.
An obese smoker in their 50s who has high blood pressure and high cholesterol could have the heart of a 60- or 70-year-old.
The quick and simple test tells you the age of your heart compared with your actual age, and shows how many years you can expect to live in good health without having a heart attack or stroke.
The test was first launched two years ago, and initial results show 1 in 10 men aged 50 who took the test has a heart age of at least 60.
It also shows many people are unaware of their blood pressure. The test could be a good way of raising public awareness of cardiovascular health and the simple lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk.
If you want to know what your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are, a practice nurse at your local GP surgery can test these for you. Call your surgery for advice.
Where does the analysis come from?
The analysis was carried out by Public Health England (PHE), a Department of Health agency responsible for improving public health and protecting the public against health emergencies and hazards.
PHE launched the One You campaign in 2016 to help people live longer, happier lives with a particular focus on awareness of heart health.
PHE reports that every month, 7,400 people die from heart disease or stroke in the UK, with a quarter of these deaths in people under 75. Most could be prevented through better awareness of heart health and by making positive lifestyle choices.
As part of the campaign, PHE are encouraging people to take a simple three-minute online Heart Age Test.
What is the test?
The test asks you a set of questions about factors known to have an effect on cardiovascular disease risk.
- age, gender and ethnicity
- weight and height – used to calculate your body mass index (BMI)
- if you or a close relative under 60 has known cardiovascular disease
- whether you smoke or used to smoke
- if you have diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney diseaseor atrial fibrillation
- whether you know your total cholesterol
- if you know your blood pressure or have been on blood pressure treatment
It then tells you your heart age and the age, on average, you could expect to live to without having a heart attack or stroke.
It gives you a breakdown of your results, including your BMI and information on your cholesterol or blood pressure level (if you knew these), or alternatively recommends you get these checked.
It then gives you individual advice, such as ways you can lower your cholesterol or blood pressure through diet or activity. It links to various recognised sources of advice on lifestyle, diet and activity, such as the British Heart Foundation and NHS Choices.
It also tells you where you can go locally for advice or testing, and whether you’re eligible for an NHS Health Check.
The NHS Health Check is like a medical “MOT” for adults in England aged 40 to 74. It’s designed to spot the early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia.
What do the test results show so far?
The Heart Age Test was launched in February 2015, and PHE has analysed 1.2 million test results so far.
The main finding reported is that 1 in 10 men aged 50 who’ve taken the test were found to have a heart age of at least 60, and around half of people who took the test didn’t know their blood pressure.
PHE says 5.6 million people in England may have high blood pressure and not know it. The results suggest the test could play an important role in giving people a wake-up call about their heart health and what they can do to improve it.
Various experts have given their thoughts on the test. Associate Professor Jamie Waterall, Lead for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at PHE, said: “We should all aim for our heart age to be the same as our real age – addressing our risk of heart disease and stroke should not be left until we are older.
“The Heart Age Test is really important as it gives an immediate idea of heart attack and stroke risk, with no doctor’s appointment needed.”
Katherine Jenner, CEO of Blood Pressure UK, commented: “Getting your blood pressure tested in your nearest pharmacy or health centre can be the first important step to prolonging your life.
“Making simple changes, like doing more activity or quitting smoking, can reduce this risk, and PHE is urging adults to lower their heart age before it is too late.”
What can I do about improving my heart health?
Although we can’t change some risk factors for cardiovascular disease – such as age, gender, ethnicity and genetics – there are ways you can reduce your risk:
- take regular exercise
- eat a healthy diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat, salt and sugar
- quit smoking
- drink alcohol in moderation and drink no more than 14 units a week