It was my slightly older cousin who first put the fear of God into me about what could lie in store with my ticker.
Only in his late 50s, and not in the slightest bit overweight, he blindsided me with the news he’d already had three heart stent operations – and the bleak family history on my father’s side had me squarely in the frame to follow suit.
With my dearly departed mum also a recent victim of heart disease, this proclamation was, to say the least, not the type to fill you with optimism about your immediate longevity.
So, it was with more than some trepidation that I gingerly entered my details into the new Heart Age Calculator just released by the Heart Foundation to mark the start of a new awareness campaign.
When you’re 45, but you heart age is 50, their headline warns, you face an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Oh, dear, here goes nothing. No point in sticking your head in the sand about such things anymore.
With no mention of the impact on your heart from the shock value of the result, I gingerly key in the pertinent details: age, 52; height, 193cm; weight, 102kg, family history (yes), smoke (no), cholesterol levels (don’t know), and to be honest the rest of it passes in a sweaty blur.
Until I hit the ‘Get Result’ button….59!
Bloody hell. Seven years older than my actual age.
Razor-sharp focus rushes back as I scan the page for help. I’m told I need to see my doctor for a biennial heart health check.
Don’t worry Heart Foundation, I plan to, and to read the recipes and ‘get active’ advice on the same page.
The foundation’s chief medical advisor, Professor Garry Jennings says one in five Australians aged 45 to 74 have a moderate to high risk for heart attack and stroke in the next five years.
“Don’t wait for a heart attack to be your first sign of trouble. Knowing your risk is the first step towards avoiding a heart attack or stroke,” says Garry.
“The higher your heart age compared to your actual age, the higher your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If your heart age is greater than your actual age, we advise you to make an appointment with your doctor for a heart health check.
“High blood pressure or high cholesterol are some of the leading risks for heart disease, which remains the biggest killer of Australians. These conditions often have no obvious symptoms, yet they can be a ticking time bomb for people’s heart health. Critically, too few people understand the significant impact these risks have on their heart health.”
The professor also adds that close to 40 per cent of Australians aged 18 and over have three or more risk factors which is putting millions at risk of premature death or chronic ill health.
“There’s no one cause for heart disease, but the more risk factors you have, the higher your chance of getting it, and these risks only increase with age,” he says.
“Filling out the calculator does not replace the need to see your doctor for a Heart Health Check. We recommend having a regular heart health check if you’re 45 years old and over, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, from 35 years and over.”
There is good news for me too, it seems.
“By taking some small steps to change your lifestyle – through eating a healthy, balanced diet, being smoke-free and getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week – you can reduce your risk for heart disease and lower your heart age,” concludes Garry.
Right, where have those bloody running shoes gone?