What your 'heart age' says about your health

Do you know how old your heart is? And does it even matter?

Do you know how old your heart is? And does it even matter?

More online calculators, wearable devices and medical tests are attempting to estimate the age of your heart. The companies and organizations behind the tool say that having information about your heart health can motivate you to make lifestyle changes to help avoid cardiovascular disease in the future.

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More online calculators, wearable devices, and medical tests are attempting to estimate the age of your heart. The companies and organizations behind the tool say that having information about your heart health can motivate you to make lifestyle changes to help avoid cardiovascular disease in the future.

It's an extension of our newfound obsession with “biological age,” the concept that your body, or parts of it, may physically age faster or slower than your actual age. And by knowing those ages, you can take control to live longer and healthier.

As far as the heart is concerned, scientists say these tools could be a helpful starting point for conversations with doctors about changing habits or medications before heart disease starts.

But doctors and researchers say you should take the results with a grain of salt. Age calculations are imprecise and do not take into account all your potential risk factors, such as family history, air pollution, pregnancy complications or genetic variations.

“This is a pretense of prescribing some quantity specifically for you that is demonstrably true,” says Dr. Gregory Katz, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Heart. “It's based on a true story, but it's not really a true story.”

How do the tools work?

There are some online calculators, including those from health organizations such as the UK National Health Service, the Heart Foundation of Australia and the Framingham Heart Study.

They ask people to enter metrics like their chronological age, gender, body-mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They then use various statistical models to compare your data against the average and give you an age estimate.

Elysium Health's saliva-based biological-age test gives overall age estimates and organ-specific scores, including heart. Novos Labs, another company offering biological-age testing, says it plans to add a cardiovascular-age component to its blood test later this year.

Aura Ring, a wearable sleep and activity tracker, will soon offer a feature that will estimate users' cardiovascular age. It uses a sensor to measure blood flow to assess how stiff the arteries are. Stiffness of the arteries increases with age and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death. Age calculations are refreshed daily based on weekly averages.

The company says people whose heart rate is six or more may see messages in the app encouraging more movement or other suggestions about stress, sleep or nutrition.

Different heart-age devices are likely to give different results for the same person. Some provide users with personalized recommendations about reducing heart disease risk, such as losing weight, reducing salt, and exercising more.

How useful are heart-age devices?

Traditionally, most doctors rely on risk calculators as indicators of a person's risk for heart disease. They may be more complex than heart-age calculators and may be difficult for non-doctors to interpret. Risk calculators give you a risk score over a certain period of time rather than by age. For example, a patient may be told that his risk of heart disease in the next 10 years or over his lifetime is 35%.

Some doctors think the evolving concept of heart age may be a more direct, practical way to talk to patients about their health. For example, a 50-year-old man whose estimated heart age is 56 might take this as a reminder to focus on healthy habits or a spark for a discussion with a doctor about cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins. As can be seen. ,

When patients bring heart-age results to appointments, it can be a helpful starting point for a broader discussion, says Dr. Samuel Kim, director of preventive cardiology at Weill Cornell Medicine.

“When you catch heart disease early and treat it aggressively, you're probably more likely to reverse things like plaque,” says Kim. He said calculators are most helpful to people in middle age or older.

Other health experts worry that heart-age predictions could have the opposite effect, causing more anxiety and leading patients to avoid the doctor in case they get more bad news.

Australian researchers reviewing studies about heart age found that there was limited evidence of using heart age based on percent risk, although some studies showed that heart age when combined with other strategies could help people Was effective in motivating lifestyle changes.

“Your chronological age is probably a more reliable indicator of health risks than current measures of biological age,” said Carissa Bonner, a behavioral scientist, associate professor at the University of Sydney and co-author of the review study.

Heart-age trials are in the pipeline

Researchers are also studying more accurate measures of heart age through medical imaging, such as echocardiogram and MRI.

South Korean researchers have developed an AI model to predict heart age based on EKG data, which they say will be available in clinics in that country this year. Method's study of more than 226,000 adults showed that people whose heart age was estimated six or more years higher than their chronological age had higher rates of death and major cardiovascular events than people who were the same or younger. Was.

These models are probably a long way from becoming a standard part of preventive care. The US Preventive Services Task Force, a medical advisory panel whose recommendations are widely followed by doctors and insurers, recommends not screening low-risk adults with an ECG to prevent heart disease. (The task force recommends screening for high blood pressure through blood pressure screening in all adults.)

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend using risk calculators for heart disease prevention. The ACC says it is researching its own heart age calculator.

Write to Alex Janin at [email protected]

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