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.
Contact the BHF press office by telephoning 020 7554 0164 or 07764 290381 (out of hours) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the research
The research, published today in BMJ Open and led by BHF funded researchers at UCL, looked at the data of 575,000 individuals who used the Heart Age Tool over a 6 month period.
The Heart Age Tool is available on the NHS Choices website. The new tool also has an improved user journey and a pathway for people under 30 who can’t yet access the tool, directing them to relevant healthy living pages on NHS Choices.
About the NHS Health Check
The NHS Health Check invites people between 40 and 74 years old every 5 years for an appointment, as long as they do not have an existing vascular condition. Read more information on the NHS Health Check.
Checking your blood pressure
You can find out your blood pressure numbers by getting your blood pressure tested at:
- your local GP surgery
- some pharmacies
- in some workplaces
- at home with a home test kit
- at an NHS Health Check appointment offered to adults in England aged 40 to 74
CVD risk factors
The main risk factors for CVD are:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- being overweight or obese
- family history of CVD
- ethnic background
- other risk factors
- age: CVD is most common in people over 50 and your risk of developing it increases as you get older
- gender: men are more likely to develop CVD at an earlier age than women
- diet: an unhealthy diet can lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure
- alcohol: excessive alcohol consumption can also increase your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and contribute to weight gain
Johanna Ralston, Chief Executive of the World Heart Federation, said:
The theme of this year’s World Heart Day is power your life. We want people to take control of their heart health and the first step in this is understanding their risk. With so many people finding their heart ages are older than their actual ages, the Heart Age Tool is an extremely useful wake-up call for people to implement those simple lifestyle changes that can improve their heart age and their wellbeing.
Helen Rowntree, Programme Director for NHS Choices, said:
NHS Choices provides trusted tools and information to the public to help users manage their health and care. The Heart Age tool has been a huge success with nearly 1 million uses since it was launched. The tool also shows users that by making small changes to their lifestyle now, they can improve their health in the longer term.
About British Heart Foundation
For over 50 years we’ve pioneered research that’s transformed the lives of people living with heart and circulatory conditions. Our work has been central to the discoveries of vital treatments that are changing the fight against heart disease. But so many people still need our help. From babies born with life-threatening heart problems to the many mums, dads and grandparents who survive a heart attack and endure the daily battles of heart failure. Join our fight for every heartbeat in the UK. Every pound raised, minute of your time and donation to our shops will help make a difference to people’s lives. For more information visit bhf.org.uk.
About Public Health England
Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk and Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland.
About NHS Choices
NHS Choices is the UK’s biggest health website. It provides a comprehensive health information service to help put you in control of your healthcare. The website helps you make choices about your health, from decisions about your lifestyle, such as smoking, drinking and exercise, to access to trusted information on symptoms and conditions. The site also contains comprehensive directories of NHS services in England that include user ratings and reviews of services.