Scottish Daily Mail
4 IN 5 HAVE A HEART THAT IS OLDER THAN THEY ARE
Obesity and lack of exercise to blame
FOUR in five Britons have hearts prematurely aged by poor lifestyles. In the worst cases, men and women in their mid-40s had hearts typical of 60-year-olds.
The disparity puts them at far greater risk of cardiac arrest, stroke and diseases of old age.
Published today, the research by University College London is a stark reminder of the dangers of obesity and lack of exercise.
Two thirds of British adults are overweight or obese – one of the worst rates in Europe. The findings are based on the responses of 575,000 users of a heart age calculator on the NHS Choices website.
The tool gives an estimate based on height, weight, date of birth, exercise levels and how much an individual smokes or drinks.
The study found that 79 per cent of over-30s had a heart at least a year older than their age.
A worrying 89 per cent of men below 40 had unhealthy hearts, compared with just 41 per cent of women. The researchers said the latter took better care of their health.
One in seven adults had hearts ten years too old and for one in 14 the gap was 15 years.
Heart disease is the nation’s biggest killer, claiming 155,000 lives a year. But the UCL team believes many of these deaths could be prevented with lifestyle changes.
‘There is too much high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes which is driven by our behaviours,’ said the British Heart
Foundation’s Mike Knapton, who was involved in the study.
‘We eat too much, do too little exercise and as a population we are more at risk of developing heart disease. Knowing your heart age is vital to taking control of your health.
‘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 investment.’
The calculator – or Heart Age Tool – was launched by the NHS last February to alert adults to their risk of heart disease. The researchers say the results are not necessarily representative of the entire population.
Many users of the calculator may be unhealthier than average and were keen to find out the ages of their hearts. Patients are also told if they are at risk of heart disease through health checks offered to all adults aged 40 to 75.
Many never attend the appointment and even if they do, may not take their GP’s advice seriously.
Johanna Ralston of the World Heart Federation said: ‘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.’
Public health expert Jamie Waterall 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 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 have used the calculator since it was launched 18 months ago but a new version, available from today, will offer advice on how to lower cardiovascular risk and reverse the ageing of the heart.
Research in Spain showed that giving patients a heart age resulted in blood pressure and weight reductions over 12 months in both men and women, as well as more people quitting smoking.
John Deanfield, a British Heart Foundation professor of cardiology who led the development of the calculator, said: ‘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.’
The findings are published in the journal BMJ Open.