Knowing your heart age can help reduce the risk of conditions down the line - here's how to calculate it

Knowing your heart age can help you reduce the risk of adverse cardiovascular conditions and keep you healthy throughout your life, a doctor reveals

Woman wearing active clothes out walking in the fresh air to try and reduce heart age
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you know your heart age? We often think of our health in terms of the years we've had and make changes to adapt to that - like picking up strength training to maintain muscle mass through menopause or changing our eating habits for vitamin deficiencies. But other metrics are available to work out what's going on inside our bodies as well, and heart age is one of them. 

Heart attacks in women may be less common than in men - but when they do happen, they carry a higher risk of fatality. While modern medicine is catching up with itself to offer women safer testing for heart attacks, knowing how to reduce the risk of one is undoubtedly the way forward. Knowing your heart age is one way to do this as it helps to determine your risk of a heart attack and/or stroke to begin with.

"It offers a tangible representation of your cardiovascular risk, which can motivate you to make the necessary lifestyle changes and seek preventive measures to make a difference if you don’t like what you see," says Dr Raj Dasgupta, a physician specialising in internal medicine and critical care. 

What is heart age?

Your heart age is an estimate of your cardiovascular risk, based on factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, and lifestyle choices, says Dr Dasgupta, who works with Sleep Advisor. "It's an intuitive tool to encourage patients to understand and address any issues with their heart health or a straightforward way to visualise and correct potential risks for cardiovascular disease to improve their circumstances and avoid health issues down the road," he says. 

Much like how your biological age offers an overall picture of how your body is ageing and your fitness age describes your aerobic ability, your heart age can go some way to reveal how healthy your heart is. 

The number is based on your inputs and compares your real age. However, the doctor notes that it's not a suitable metric for everyone. The calculator is only intended for those between 35 and 75 years of age in most cases and those who have not been diagnosed with heart disease. 

Dr Raj Dasgupta
Dr Raj Dasgupta

Dr. Raj Dasgupta is an ABIM quadruple board-certified physician specialising in internal medicine, pulmonology, critical care, and sleep medicine. Along with his professional work in medicine and clinical research, Dr. Dasgupta serves as an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He brings this expertise to Sleep Advisor as the chief medical officer.

Heart age calculator 

To measure your heart age truly effectively, you will need to take a cardiovascular risk assessment. This involves a health questionnaire, and biometric measurements - including your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and BMI. You'll also need a consultation with your doctor to determine the results.

However, for those looking to get a general idea of their heart age, online tools are also available. To discover your heart age, work through the NHS calculator, which can be found on the website.

1. Age

The first question asked by the calculator is about your age. This is predominantly because this online tool is only designed for those between 30 and 95 years old, thanks to the large population study the research is based on. 

The Framingham Heart Study is the root of the heart age calculator and researchers did not include those under 30 years old, so it's not possible to offer up an estimate given this.

2. Cardiovascular disease

The next study asks whether you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, of which there are three kinds: coronary heart disease - the most common of the three, it can cause heart attacks and angina; stroke; and peripheral vascular disease, which involves the reduced circulation of blood to a body part other than the heart or brain.

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, this calculator is not suitable for measuring your heart age. 

3. Your sex at birth

With options to choose between male and female, this is an important question as your sex can alter your risk of a heart attack or stroke. As noted, although doctors aren't entirely sure why this is the case, men are more likely to have a heart attack than women - twice as likely, per research by the Public Health Institute in Finland.

It's also thought that women's hormones pre-menopause help to reduce the risk of a heart attack earlier in life. Post-menopause, when levels of progesterone and oestrogen drop, this protective element isn't there. However, new research is being published on the subject all the time, with some saying that these hormones aren't as protective as originally thought. 

It was also thought that the symptoms of a heart attack in women were different to men, but this is not the case per the British Heart Foundation.  

4. Ethnic group

This question is included in the heart age calculator as your ethnicity may increase your chances of developing heart-related conditions. 

For example, the British Heart Foundation has supported two major studies on the topic. One of which, called the Sabre Study has been ongoing for more than 30 years. It found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes - a serious risk factor for heart attacks and stroke - before the age of 80 was double for people with South Asian and African Caribbean backgrounds, compared to those with White European backgrounds. 

5. Smoking history

It's not news that smoking increases the risk of adverse health conditions - and heart disease is just one of them. According to research by several institutions, and backed by the NHS, the chemicals in classic cigarette smoke causes the blood to thicken in the veins and arteries and clots to form. If one of these clots causes a blockage, this can lead to a heart attack.

If you smoke, no matter whether it's less than 10 a day or more than 20+, your heart age is likely to be higher than your true age. Much like how quitting alcohol for good or cutting down on alcohol can decrease your risk of adverse health conditions, so can giving up smoking.

Woman smiling and washing oranges in front of kitchen window with sun coming through

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Weight and height

Weight and height are metrics used together to determine your BMI. Traditionally speaking, this determines how much you should weigh. While research in the last 10 years has debunked BMI as a useful measurement of health for various reasons, having a BMI classed as 'obese' (over 30 on the measurement scale) is still considered a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. 

7. Medical history

Finally, the heart age calculator takes your medical history into account with eight yes or no questions about your health. This includes past diagnoses for conditions such as type 2 diabetes, atrial fibrillation (a condition that can cause an abnormally fast heart rate), chronic kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. All of these conditions are risk factors for heart disease. 

Why is it important to know your heart age?

Once you know your heart age, or you have an approximation, you can decide whether you like what you see. "By comparing your estimated heart age to your actual age, you can take proactive steps to improve your heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases down the line," says Dr Dasgupta. 

"Remember, it’s never too early to start thinking about your risk factors for heart disease or discussing your family’s history with your doctor or healthcare provider. While there are some risks you can’t change like age, ethnicity and family history of heart disease, there are other risks you can take steps towards reducing like maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and smoke-free, managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol," he says. 

"Regular check-ups and lifestyle management are still extremely important for maintaining your overall heart health under the guidance of your doctor," Dr Dasgupta says. If you have any concerns about your heart health at all, or want to know more about heart conditions, speak to your GP. 

Grace Walsh
Health Channel Editor

Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. She is also a qualified fitness instructor. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. 

A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.