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  • For Millions of Americans, 'Heart Age' Outpaces Actual Age

    Forget about staying young at heart. For most Americans, simply having a cardiovascular system that isn't lapping them in the race to old age is a challenge, according to a new report that says 69 million US adults have a "heart age" that is, on average, 7 years older than their chronological age.

    The findings were released in a "Vital Signs" report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To arrive at a heart age, CDC calculated the age of a person’s cardiovascular system based on risk factors that include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes status, and body mass index (BMI). CDC researchers used data collected from every US state and information from the Framingham Heart Study in what they describe as the first to provide population-level estimates of heart age.

    Although the older heart age phenomenon was pervasive, the range of differences play out across demographic lines. Half of American men aged 30-74, for example, have an estimated heart age that is, on average, 8 years older. Among women in the same age range, 2 in 5 have an estimated heart age that is an average of 5 years older.

    Similarly, while heart age exceeded actual age among all ethnic groups, the age difference was highest among African-American men and women, with an average 11-year gap. Geographically, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama had the highest percentages of adults with a heart age 5 or more years over their actual age. Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts had the fewest adults with a difference of 5 or more years.

    Researchers acknowledge that the monitoring and control of individual cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors is key to improving overall public health, but they believe the concept of "heart age" might be a good way to get people to pay attention—and do something to lower their risk.

    "Use of heart age might simplify risk communication and motivate more persons, especially younger persons, to adopt healthier lifestyles and better comply with recommended therapeutic interventions to prevent heart disease and stroke," authors write in the study used by the CDC. "Moreover, its use might support public health efforts in geographic areas most at risk for poor CVD outcomes and support the implementation of programs and policies that increase the availability of heart-healthy lifestyle options within communities."

    The PT's important role in chronic disease was reemphasized at the 2015 APTA House of Delegates, which adopted an association position on Health Priorities for Populations and Individuals (RC 11-15). Want to learn more about the ways PTs can engage in cardiovascular disease management? Download this recorded webinar.

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