Why Your Heart Age Matters (And How To Determine Yours)

While you're racing about your day, your heart dutifully keeps up its job of pumping blood throughout your entire body. It beats faster during exercise, stressful moments, or when you take an extra shot of espresso in your morning latte. Your heart never stops working, even when you sleep.

Regardless of your efforts to appear younger on the outside, your heart's age can serve as an indicator of your longevity. While your actual age may differ from your heart's age, your heart's age reflects your susceptibility to heart disease or a heart attack. Your heart age considers various risk factors for heart disease and computes a more relevant age based on the likelihood of heart issues (per the National Heart Foundation of Australia).

Put simply, although your current age carries a specific risk level for heart problems, your heart age may be higher or lower based on factors like lifestyle, current health status, and family history. According to the Methodist Health System, most people's heart age is older than their chronological age.

How to determine your heart age

Heart age calculators will ask your age, sex, weight, and height since BMI can factor into your risk of heart disease. They'll also factor in your blood pressure and whether or not you take medication to control it. High blood pressure is one of the key risk factors for heart disease, according to the Methodist Health System.

Your family history is important, especially if you had a parent who had heart disease or died at a younger age of a heart attack or stroke. Heart age also considers your cholesterol levels, since high LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and high HDL can be protective of your heart. Cholesterol is the second key risk factor for heart disease, and smoking is the third. Half of people in the United States have at least one of the three key risk factors of heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking.

Other heart age algorithms will also ask if you're on aspirin therapy or have a history of diabetes. The American Heart Association says that chronic kidney disease, inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, or early menopause could also increase your risk for heart disease.

Factors you can change to improve your heart age

As you get older, your heart begins to change, according to the National Institute on Aging. Although your resting heart rate won't change, your heart rate while exercising or under stress will be much lower than when you were younger. Age also makes your arteries more stiff, called arteriosclerosis, and can increase your blood pressure. High blood pressure combined with other factors can make it difficult for blood to flow to your heart and can damage the heart over time.

You might not be able to control factors like your age or family history, but some lifestyle changes can improve the age of your heart, according to the Methodist Health System. If you don't already get your recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, focusing on sleep can be good for your heart health. Limiting sugar, salt, and alcohol while incorporating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains into your diet can make your heart age younger. Exercise improves your heart and can help you manage heart-damaging stress. Because a heart age measure isn't perfect, it's always a good idea to get your annual health screenings and health exams to get a better picture of your heart health.