Good Health: How old is your heart? Take the quiz

TROY, Mich. – How old is your heart?   The answer may not be as simple as it seems.

"I saw a patient the other day who's 55, but he had a heart age of 65.  That's not a good situation," said Dr. Barry Franklin, director of the Preventive Cardiology at Beaumont Hospital.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, but many of the factors that raise our risk are entirely preventable.   Franklin doesn't mince words when it comes to the threat of heart disease.

"Each year we lose over 800,000 people to cardiovascular disease," said Franklin.  "In a nutshell, people have to recognize that if you're 50 or over, you more likely than not have cardiovascular disease.  So assume you have it. Assume you're a heart patient."

Beaumont Health has a new tool called the Beaumont Heart Health Risk Assessment to help patients identify their individual risk.  It's a free quiz you can take online that asks key questions about your age, weight, your family history, and lifestyle,   It only takes a few minutes to complete, but the information it reveals could be a real eye-opener when it comes to your future health.

Franklin is a big fan of the quiz.

"What it does, it then calculates two things, your 'heart age' -- in other words the 'heart age' is what your heart is equivalent to for someone your age -- and your ten-year-risk of developing a cardiac event," explained Franklin.

If your 'heart age' is older than your actual age, that's a problem.  So is an elevated ten-year-risk.

"For people who have 10, 15 percent over the next 10 years, that puts them in a moderate to high-risk category, and it suggests those are individuals who really need to favorably modify their lifestyle and reduce their risk factors," said Franklin.

Franklin says people need to be much more proactive about their health.

"Where it all starts is poor diet, physical inactivity, and cigarette smoking," said Franklin.  "Sometimes people put their head in the sand too long.  People who don't see a physician or people who oftentimes assume, 'If I don't have symptoms, I'm fine,' and when it comes to heart disease, it's called the 'silent disease.'"

In reality, damage is probably already occurring.

"New studies suggest that 85 percent of all adults over the age of 50 have cardiovascular disease, so the question is 'Do you have it if you're over 50?'  I'm 85 percent confident you have it.  The question is how do you prevent those acute cardiovascular events?" said Franklin.

Franklin says the single most important change you can make is to stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke too.

"The latest information suggests lifelong smokers lose on average 10 to 12 years. That's not weeks, that's not days, that's years," said Franklin,.

When it comes to your heart health -- knowledge is power.

"If you come out very low risk, keep doing what you're doing," said Franklin.  "But if your risk is moderate to high you need to be aggressive in terms of changing your lifestyle and getting those risk factors favorably modified."

Step one -- take the quiz.

"I think it can be a wake up call.  I think it could be an educational tool, and I also think it could be highly, highly motivating," said Franklin.

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