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heart age calculator

Adjunct Professor John G Kelly, AM

Group CEO, National Heart Foundation of Australia
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John joined the Heart Foundation in August 2016. Previous to that, he led sector reform for aged care as CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia. He has extensive clinical, management and consulting background in the health sector, including previous careers in law and in cardiac nursing and current academic appointments with the Sydney Nursing School and the University of Technology, Sydney.

How old is your heart?

If that seems like a stupid question (‘Um, exactly the same age as me?’), you might want to join the more than half a million Australians who have recently visited the Heart Foundation’s Heart Age Calculator to find out how well their hearts are ageing.

The Heart Age Calculator is a simple online tool designed to help Australians understand their personal risk of heart attack and stroke. It targets those of us aged 35 to 75 years who do not have heart disease or have not previously had a heart attack or stroke.

The Calculator asks you to plug in information including your age, sex, smoking history, diabetes status, Body Mass Index (BMI), cholesterol levels, blood pressure (and whether you take medication to control it), and any history in your immediate family of heart attack or stroke in people under the age of 60.

Using an algorithm based on a multigenerational international study, it then estimates the probability that you will suffer a heart attack, stroke or other “cardiovascular event” in the next five years, and translates that into your “heart age”. Basically, the higher your heart age compared with your actual age, the more likely you are to have a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.  

If the calculator finds that your heart age is ageing faster than you are, it will advise you to make an appointment with your GP for a Medicare-funded Heart Health Check. As part of that process, your doctor will order tests, discuss your level of risk, and help devise a strategy to lower those risks.

Why all the fuss? Because despite enormous advances in recent decades, heart disease remains Australia’s biggest single killer. Each day about 21 people die of heart attack; 22 from stroke. We know that 1.4 million Australians are at high risk of having a heart attack or a stroke in the next five years, more than half of them aged between 45 and 74. More than two in three of us aged 18 and over have three or more heart risk factors that increase our likelihood of premature death or chronic ill health. Many of us have no idea we have anything to worry about.

While the Heart Age Calculator is not a clinical tool – and doesn’t replace the need to see your doctor for regular Heart Health Checks – it is a way of motivating busy, distracted Australians to think about, and hopefully act on, their heart health. Here at the Heart Foundation, we are delighted that since the calculator’s launch in February, more than 550,000 people have used it to calculate their risk and get information about what steps to take next.

Importantly, a high heart age need not be a death sentence – or even a life sentence. It is a reminder and an opportunity to act to take control of your heart health.

So, here’s another question. How old would you like your heart to be?

I ask because, unlike your actual age, you can change your heart age. While some risk factors (age, sex, family history) may be beyond our control, many are not. You can reduce your risk through measures such as medication, exercise, diet and quitting or reducing tobacco. Simply knowing the warning signs of a heart attack (and they can be different for men and women) could save your life.

Life is full of risks: some you can change, some you can’t. This one you can. It starts here.