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Heart Age: A Wake Up Call

31 October 2018 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Heart, the most romanticized biological structure of the human body, is in reality a hollow muscular organ that constantly pumps blood through the circulatory system to fulfill the oxygen and nutrient requirements of the body. Being one of the earliest organs to develop, differentiate and function, the heart first begins to beat in a human embryo as early as 5 weeks into pregnancy and in an average adult, the heart beats about 60-100 times per minute. This amounts to almost 115,200 beats per day.  

Organs are a group of tissues that are specialized to perform a specific set of functions. One would naturally assume an organ to age at the same pace as the organism itself, both having the same chronological age. However it has now been identified following extensive study, that even though the heart muscle is equipped to function in an indefatigable manner, it is prone to aging at a faster pace, making the ‘heart age’ precede a person’s actual biological age.  

An online quiz tool to assess the heart age of any individual over 30 years of age has been unveiled by the National Health Service, UK and is being backed by the British Heart Foundation and the Stroke Association. According to the BBC, Public Health England is urging people older than 30 years of age to take an online test to find out their respective heart ages which indicates the risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke in the near future.  

Even though the heart muscle is equipped to function in an indefatigable manner, it is prone to aging at a faster pace, making the ‘heart age’ precede a person’s actual biological age

The quiz consists of 16 simple questions based on lifestyle, biometrics and medical history of an individual. According to NHS UK, the heart age test “tells you your heart age compared to your real age, explains why its important to know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and gives advice on how to reduce your heart age”. 

Though this test is not diagnostic, it offers an estimated 10-year risk prediction. The heart age is calculated based on the risk factors for heart disease an individual possesses. This quiz can be found at the following link:   

https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/for-your-body/check-your-health/heart-age-test/

Heart is a highly fatigue-resistant vital organ and is made up of cardiac myocytes (heart muscle cells). These cells, upon receiving electrical stimuli from the cardiac pacemaker, contract in a synchronized manner to effectively eject blood with every heart beat. The amount of blood pumped by the heart in a minute is known as the cardiac output.  

Heart first begins to beat in a human embryo as early as 5 weeks into pregnancy and in an average adult, the heart beats about 60-100 times per minute

When subject to stressful conditions, the body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes the breathing and heart rate to speed up and the blood pressure to rise. When stress is constantly experienced by an individual, the constant switching of these regualatory mechanisms, take a toll on the overall cardiac health. Cardiac output also varies widely with the level of activity of the body. The basic level of body metabolism, whether the person is exercising, the person’s age, and size of the body, are among some factors that significantly alter the cardiac output. For young, healthy men, resting cardiac output averages about 5.6 L/min. For women, this value is about 4.9 L/min.   

Lifestyle risk factors such as physical inactivity, obesity, cigarette smoking and binge drinking contribute to the additional burden placed on the heart,  as do factors such as poorly controlled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Diabetes, and a family history of cardiovascular diseases.  

The National Health Service UK has reported that almost 2 million individuals have taken the heart age test and it was noted that almost 78% of the participants have a heart age higher than their actual age, putting them at greater risk of morbidity, or an early death. According to heart.org, obtaining less than ideal results on your heart age screening test, doesn’t mean you are destined to develop serious cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular illnesses, on the contrary, this may be looked at as a chance to begin changing your health habits in a positive way.  

Non communicable diseases, especially Ischemic Heart Disease, Cerebrovascular Disease (Stroke) and Diabetes continue to be among the top causes of morbidity and mortality both internationally and in Sri Lanka.   

Consultant Cardiologist at the National Hospital Sri Lanka, Dr. Gotabhaya Ranasinghe welcomed the idea of risk prediction in individuals as early as 30 years of age, while noting that rapid urbanization of Sri Lanka in the recent years has fuelled unhealthy food habits and sedantary lifestyles among a majority of the people.  Food items that are cleverly disguised as healthy often become a trend, and ignorant, uninformed youth are easily lured. Making conscious decisions on food preferences could be a start, as many are ignorant regarding the ingredients involved in the making of their favorite food items.  

As non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases can be controlled and prevented with early risk factor identification, Dr. Ranasinghe stressed the importance of lifestyle modification and urged the public to reevaluate their lifestyles before resorting to medical solutions. Making adequate dietary changes and incorporating excercises to their daily routine, would bring about paramount changes in cardiac health, over time.  

Stress management is one of the most overlooked aspects of cardiac health. Even in individuals who are otherwise “healthy”, stress continues to be a hidden factor that puts them at a silent risk of acquiring cardiac diseases and stroke. Most Sri Lankan youth, especially those who are overworked in the corporate sector are easily susceptible to stress. Unfortunately, mental health seldom receives the attention and spotlight that physical health does. Educating the youth on effective methods to combat stress is the need of the hour. Ideally, practical methods such as meditation could be included in the curriculum to ensure implementation.   


 

  • For young, healthy men, resting cardiac output averaages about 5.6 L/min.
  • For women, this value is about 4.9 L/min. 
  • In an adult, heart beats about 60-100 times per minute
  • Avg. heart beat is around115,200 times per day

Although inherent contributing factors of heart disease such as family history, age, and gender cannot be altered, maintaining optimum weight, consumption of healthy, heart-friendly food, moderate exercises for at least 30 minutes per day, and cessation of smoking in cigarette smokers can significantly affect quality of life and will exhibit positive outcomes once implemented.  

Knowledge of one’s Heart Age serves as a wake up call to those of us who may have been ignoring their health thus far, and prompts the quiz taker to be proactive about improving their overall heart health.   

Credits: BBC, NHS UK  

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