Are you having a May-December romance with your heart?

You could be 50 years old and your heart be 70 years old, and not be in a telefilm based on a Stephen King book in which you receive a heart transplant from a serial killer. Barring possessed body parts, how is this age difference explained? Whereas in human-to-human interactions age difference usually determines a relationship – Anna Nicole and that old, rich guy; Hugh Heffner and every girlfriend he has had since becoming rich (starting to see a trend there?) – in human-to-heart interactions, it is the nature of the relationship that determines the difference in age. Ergo, if you treat your heart like an ashtray, you can expect people to confuse it with your grandpa’s heart.

Actual age versus heart age

Actual age


Heart age


A 45 year old man who

  • Smokes.
  • Has high blood pressure.
  • Is diabetic.
  • Has a healthy weight.


75 years old.


A 50 year old woman who

  • Does not smoke.
  • Has high blood pressure.
  • Is diabetic.
  • Is obese.


85 years old.


Bringin’ on the heart age

Heart age is defined as the age of the heart and blood vessels as result of risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Some of these risk factors are unavoidable – they depend on your own age or whether you have a family history of heart attack or stroke – but others are part of your lifestyle, such as smoking, eating unhealthily, being physically inactive. Other factors that can be prevented, changed or managed include hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Sadly, about 69 million American adults’ hearts are older than their owners by 7 years on average – 8 years older for men; 5 years for women.

According to the CDC:

  • 1 in 2 men have a heart age 5 or more years older than their actual age.
  • 2 in 5 women have a heart age 5 or more years older than their actual age.
  • Approximately 3 in 4 heart attacks and strokes are caused by risk factors that increase heart age.


Dawn of the black hearts

Some ethnic groups have much older hearts than others, especially African Americans whose hearts are 11 years older on average than Hispanics and Non-Hispanic Whites. Accordingly, they also exhibit heart age-increasing risk factors more so than others demographics.

26% of African American men


Are current smokers

Vs. 18% Hispanic and 21% white men

18% of African American women

Vs. 10% Hispanic and 20% white women

42% of African American men


Have high blood pressure

Vs. 31% Hispanic and 32% white men

44% of African American women

Vs. 29% Hispanic and 25% white women

13% of African American men


Have diabetes

Vs. 13% Hispanic and 8% white men

15% of African American women

Vs. 13% Hispanic and 7% white women

78% of African American men


Are overweight or obese

Vs. 80% Hispanic and 76% white men

79% of African American women

Vs. 70% Hispanic and 56% white women


Branches of the Heartbreak Hotel across America

The highest rates of adults whose heart age is 5 or more years older than their actual age are found in Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Alabama. Conversely, Utah, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii have the lowest rates.

Percentages of adults aged 30 to 74 who have no history of heart attack or stroke with heart ages 5 or more years older than their actual age.



  • California.
  • Washington.
  • Utah.
  • Montana.
  • Colorado.
  • Minnesota.
  • Vermont.
  • Massachusetts.
  • Connecticut.
  • Hawaii.


  • Oregon.
  • Idaho.
  • Arizona.
  • Wyoming.
  • South Dakota.
  • Nebraska.
  • Iowa.
  • New York.
  • New Jersey.


  • Nevada.
  • Alaska.
  • New Mexico.
  • North Dakota.
  • Wisconsin.
  • Florida.
  • Virginia.
  • Maryland.
  • Delaware.
  • Washington, DC.


  • Texas.
  • Kansas.
  • Missouri.
  • Illinois.
  • Michigan.
  • Ohio.
  • Georgia.
  • North Carolina.
  • Pennsylvania.


  • Oklahoma.
  • Arkansas.
  • Louisiana.
  • Mississippi.
  • Alabama.
  • Tennessee.
  • Kentucky.
  • Indiana.
  • West Virginia.
  • South Carolina.


When does my heart beat now

The CDC offers a Heart Age Predictor adapted from the Framingham Study Heart Age Calculator; A project of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Boston University.  


Young at heart/Wise in time

The bad news is that you may have a heart older than your actual age even if you have not experienced a heart attack or a stroke. The good news is that you can turn back the clock on your heart just by making a few changes:

  • Aim to control high blood pressure.
  • Work with your primary care provider to manage cholesterol and/or diabetes.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Eat a diet low in sodium and trans fats and rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
  • Keep a healthy weight.


The heart isn’t a lonely hunter

In addition to what you can do by yourself to rejuvenate your heart, your federal and state governments can take measures as well. Everyone can and should do their share.

CDC Recommendations

Federal government

  • Require health plans to cover recommended preventative services with no out-of-pocket cost through the Affordable Care Act.
  • Lead the Million Hearts initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.
  • Provide resources to all 50 states to prevent chronic diseases.
  • Lead nationwide campaigns to address the causes of heart disease.


  • Promote safe walking areas and access to healthy food.
  • Address tobacco use.
  • Work with hospitals to detect and address community healthcare issues.
  • Use communication materials to promote heart age reduction and lower the risk of heart disease.

Doctors, nurses, healthcare workers

  • Calculate heart age and talk about it among patients between the ages of 30 and 74.
  • Help patients pick a risk factor to concentrate on improving, and then another, and another, and so on and so forth.
  • Refer patients to community resources.

Public at large

  • Learn about heart age and how to improve it.
  • Collaborate with doctors to make healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Take action to reduce heart age.


Related Read:

- Early symptoms of stroke