People are urged to use the updated tool to find out their heart age and their risk of heart attack and stroke this World Heart Day.
A staggering 4 in 5 (79.2%) people over 30 have a heart age older than their chronological age, making them more likely to have a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke. That is according to a study of 575,000 people funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), published today (29 September 2016) in BMJ Open.
To mark World Heart Day, the BHF, Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Choices are encouraging people to use an innovative online tool to find out how old their heart is and know their cardiovascular risk. The older a person’s heart age, the higher their risk of a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack. A heart age greater than 70 increases the risk significantly.
Nearly 9 in 10 men under 40 (87%) had a heart older than they were, compared to 41% of women of the same age. Of these, over a quarter (28%) had a heart age greater than their chronological age by at least 5 years.
The study, the largest of its kind, also found a significant proportion of the public were unaware of their own cardiovascular risk factors. 4 in 5 people (78.8%) did not know what their cholesterol levels were, and almost half (49.5%) did not know or input their blood pressure.
Currently cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes more than a quarter (27%) of all deaths in the UK, around 155,000 people each year, and coronary heart disease is the UK’s single biggest killer. Despite this, most cases in people under 75 are preventable. Factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as smoking, diet and a lack of exercise, can increase someone’s risk of developing CVD.
One disease from the cardiovascular family, like diabetes, makes another, like chronic kidney disease, more likely. To stop this vicious cycle, the Heart Age Tool can motivate people to think about their risk factors before problems develop, and aims to empower individuals to proactively manage these risk factors and minimise risk.
Jamie Waterall, National lead for cardiovascular disease prevention, PHE, said:
“Even though you may not have symptoms, having a heart age higher than your own age indicates an increased risk of serious illness. The Heart Age Tool gives an immediate indication of a person’s potential risk and what they can start doing to reduce it.
“For people over 40, the NHS Health Check presents an invaluable opportunity to discuss your heart health with a professional.”
Almost a million people (960,000) have used the tool since its launch in February 2015. From today, the new version of the tool will recommend interventions and advice on how to lower cardiovascular risk. It can show how to reverse the ageing of the heart by, for example, stopping smoking.
Telling people their heart is older than it should be is shown to be a more effective way to get them to change behaviour and improve cardiovascular health. A Spanish study has demonstrated that communication of a ‘heart age’ resulted in better smoking cessation rates, blood pressure and weight reductions over 12 months in both men and women compared to controls and those receiving standard 10 year risk estimates.
Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at BHF, said:
“Knowing your heart age is vital to taking control of your health. Armed with this knowledge, you can start to make changes to help protect yourself against cruel and life changing events such as heart attack and stroke. The younger you start making small but significant changes, the greater the return on your in investment in your health.
“Research has shown that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, poor diet and a lack of exercise, as well as a lack of investing in your future health and fitness all contribute to increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Why not take action this World Heart Day and make the first steps to improve the health of your heart by logging on and using this simple and quick heart age online tool?”
John Deanfield, BHF Professor of Cardiology and Senior Adviser to PHE on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention who led the development of the Heart Age Tool, said:
“There has been enormous public interest in the Heart Age Tool which provides people with a personal guide to the impact of important cardiovascular risk factors on their own health and future risk.
“Our research shows that helping people to clearly understand their risk of heart disease, and the lifestyle and medication options for lowering it, can empower them to make significant improvements to their heart health with the potential to last a lifetime.”
People can find out how old their heart is and how to manage their risk by visiting www.bhf.org.uk/heartage or the NHS Health Check website, which provides information about the NHS Health Check programme, including when and how to get one.