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What is your heart age and why is it important for your health?

We asked Cardiologist Stephen Battista, MD, to help us understand what makes a healthy heart—and how we can determine if ours is one.

You may know your actual age, but do you know your heart age?

The two numbers aren’t necessarily the same, according to University of Minnesota Health Cardiologist Stephen Battista, MD, FACC. “Some people age faster, and some age slower,” Battista said. “You can see evidence of it at any high school reunion. That same process is happening inside your heart, too.”

February is American Heart Month. It’s a great time to celebrate the organ that keeps us alive—and to find out whether your heart is truly healthy. You can learn your heart age with our online heart risk assessment tool. If you are at risk, a University of Minnesota Health care provider will contact you to help you get on a healthier path.

Take our free, online heart risk assessment to determine whether you’re at risk for heart disease.

We asked Battista to help us understand what defines a healthy heart, and determine who may be at risk for heart disease. Here’s what he had to say.

What is heart age? Why is important to know?

As technology and convenience advance, our physical health has been in a drastic decline. Our comfortable, overfed, sedentary lifestyles are leading to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and death. These lifestyle choices, genetics, and other factors also affect your heart. That’s why your heart age can be different than your chronological age. You might be in your early 40s, but your heart could effectively be much older or younger, depending on those other factors.

Right now, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States for men and women. In fact, 11 times more women will die of heart disease than breast cancer. Compared to the radiation and chemotherapy associated with cancer, heart disease is a very simple fix. It’s just that men and women often don’t do anything until it’s too late. That’s why knowing your heart age can be so helpful; it raises your awareness about your health.

Our Heart Care teams have a 60-year legacy of clinical care, research and innovation, including the world’s first open-heart surgery. Learn more about our expertise.

How can you determine your heart health?

Taking our heart risk assessment is a simple first step. The survey helps people understand what might be happening inside their bodies. Although you might feel fine on the surface, coronary artery disease—which causes heart attacks—could be brewing. Your coronary arteries need to have significant blockages in them before you typically begin to develop symptoms, such as angina (chest pain). A heart risk assessment reveals your estimated heart age. It also highlights—based on data you provide—whether you’re at risk for heart disease. By seeing the results, we can determine who is at risk, who needs an immediate full-on action plan, or who just needs a little nudge.

What are risk factors for heart disease?

We know many of the major risk factors for heart disease already. Do you have high blood pressure? A family history of heart disease? Are you a smoker? Do you have high cholesterol? Do you exercise regularly? Do you follow a healthy diet?  Are you overweight? Are you stressed? Are you getting adequate sleep? Are you in a relationship? All of these factors contribute to your heart’s health.

Heart disease masquerades as a lot of different symptoms, including unexplained sweating; shortness of breath; indigestion; a tight feeling in the chest; jaw, neck, throat or arm discomfort. All of these could be symptoms of heart disease, and even if you feel some of these, you might not recognize them for what they are. That’s the beauty of the heart risk assessment. It picks up on these potential concerns before they even happen.

What should someone do to improve their heart health?

Improving your heart health is not hard. Simple lifestyle changes are often enough. I frequently tell my patients to get active. You don’t need to run marathons or lift heavy weights; walking is sometimes enough. People also need to eat right. Your diet should be predominately plant based with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grain, nuts, seeds and legumes. Heart disease risk plummets when you have a high-fiber diet. Even eating a bowl of oatmeal every day significantly reduces heart disease risk. Of course, you should consult with your primary care physician about the right plan for you, but those are great ways to start on your own.