Online ‘heart age’ tool may lower CVD risk

Knowing how old their heart is may lead people to lower their cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk better than a modified Framingham risk score, a study published online Feb. 3 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found.

Researchers at the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain sought to determine whether an online tool called the Heart Age Calculator, a test designed to give the general public an idea of their CVD risk, would encourage study participants to make lifestyle modifications more effectively than using a Framingham score calibrated for the Spanish population (Framingham REGICOR). The Heart Age calculator asks questions about age, gender, height, weight, family history and other basic information related to CVD.

Starting in 2009, the investigators randomly assigned 3,153 public employees in the Balearic Islands to either the control group, the Heart Age (HA) group or the Framingham REGICOR (FR) group.

Control group participants received standard medical advice, including advice on a healthy lifestyle. The FR group received scores for their 10-year CVD risk, which was explained to them. They also received the same standard medical advice as the control group. The HA group learned their heart age value and what it meant, and they also learned the difference between their actual age and their heart age. They received the same medical advice as the other two groups as well.

Researchers obtained anthropometrical and metabolic measurements and information about lifestyle habits during recruitment and a year after the intervention. 

Compared with the control group, risk scores decreased significantly in the FR and HA groups. Improvement was better in the HA group. Blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels decreased in both the FR and HA groups. Body weight also decreased in both groups, but the weight loss was greater among the HA participants. Participants in the control group gained weight.

While the number of smokers in the control group increased, there were fewer smokers in the FR and HA groups. There was more of a decrease in the HA group (0.4 percent vs. 1.8 percent). Physical activity also increased in the intervention groups, while it decreased in the control group.

Although the authors acknowledged that the follow-up period was only one year, they argued that a tool such as the Heart Age Calculator may be an effective risk reduction strategy.

“This would suggest that the mere fact of presenting the patients with information that is easy to understand has a positive effect in engaging them to take preventive action,” co-author Pedro Tauler said in a press release. “Heart Age is a cost- and time-effective strategy to motivate patients to adopt a healthier lifestyle that results in a reduction in their CVD risk. The simplicity of the tool and the fact that it is easy to understand are core to its effectiveness."