Heart Disease: It Can Happen at Any Age
Heart disease doesn’t happen just to older adults. It is happening to younger adults more and more often. This is partly because the conditions that lead to heart disease are happening at younger ages.
February is American Heart Month, the perfect time to learn about your risk for heart disease and the steps you need to take now to help your heart.
Heart disease—and the conditions that lead to it—can happen at any age.
High rates of obesity and high blood pressure among younger people (ages 35–64) are putting them at risk for heart disease earlier in life.
Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.1,2
You Could Be at Risk
Many of the conditions and behaviors that put people at risk for heart disease are appearing at younger ages:
- High blood pressure. Millions of Americans of all ages have high blood pressure, including millions of people in their 40s and 50s. About half of people with high blood pressure don’t have it under control. Having uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risks for heart disease and other harmful conditions, such as stroke.
- High cholesterol. High cholesterol can increase the risk for heart disease. Having diabetes and/or obesity, smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and not getting enough physical activity can all contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- Smoking. More than 35 million U.S. adults are current smokers, and thousands of young people start smoking each day.3,4 Smoking damages the blood vessels and can cause heart disease.
On average, U.S. adults have hearts that are 7 years older than they should be. Watch this video to learn about “heart age.”
Other conditions and behaviors that affect your risk for heart disease include:
- Obesity. Carrying extra weight puts stress on the heart. More than 1 in 3 Americans—and nearly 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 2 to 19—have obesity.5
- Diabetes causes sugar to build up in the blood. This can damage blood vessels and nerves that help control the heart muscle. More than 1 in 10 people in the United States have diabetes.6
- Physical inactivity. Staying physically active helps keep the heart and blood vessels healthy. Only 1 in 4 adults meet the physical activity guidelines of getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week.7
- Unhealthy eating patterns. Most Americans, including children, eat too much sodium (salt), which increases blood pressure.8 Replacing foods high in sodium with fresh fruits and vegetables can help lower blood pressure. Only about 1 in 10 adults get enough fruits and vegetables each day.9,10 A diet high in trans fat, saturated fat, and added sugar increases the risk factor for heart disease.
4 Ways to Take Control of Your Heart Health
You’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to your heart. Learn how to be heart-healthy at any age.
Don’t smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn how to quit.
Manage conditions. Work with your health care team to manage conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This includes taking any medicines you have been prescribed. Learn more about preventing and managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Make heart-healthy eating changes. Eat food low in trans fat, saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium. Try to fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruits, and aim for low sodium options. Learn more about how to reduce sodium.
Stay active. Get moving for at least 150 minutes per week.11 You can even break up the exercise into 10-minute blocks for a total of 30 minutes in a day. Learn more about how to get enough physical activity.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
American Heart Association
- Fryar CD, Chen T-C, Li X. Prevalence of uncontrolled risk factors for cardiovascular disease: United States, 1999–2010 pdf icon[PDF – 252 KB]. NCHS data brief, no. 103. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2012.
- Virani SS, Alonso A, Benjamin EJ, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2020 update: a report from the American Heart Associationexternal icon. Circulation. 2020;141(9):e139–596.
- CDC, National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey, Figure 8.1. Prevalence of current cigarette smoking among adults aged 18 and over: United States, 2006–2018external icon. Accessed March 13, 2020.
- United States Census Bureau. QuickFacts: United Statesexternal icon. Accessed December 11, 2020.
- Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2015–2016 pdf icon[PDF – 322 KB]. NCHS data brief, no. 288. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2017.
- CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2020.
- CDC, National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey, Figure 7.5. Percentage of adults aged 18 and over who met 2008 federal physical activity guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities through leisure-time aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities: United States, 2010–2018external icon. Accessed March 13, 2020.
- Jackson SL, King SM, Zhao L, Cogswell ME. Prevalence of excess sodium intake in the United States—NHANES, 2009-2012. MMWR. 2016;64(52):1393–7.
- Lee-Kwan SH, Moore LV, Blanck HM, Harris DM, Galuska D. Disparities in state-specific adult fruit and vegetable consumption—United States, 2015external icon. MMWR. 2017;66(45):1241–7.
- CDC. Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables. Accessed December 16, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Executive Summary: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition pdf icon[PDF – 434 KB]external icon. Accessed December 16, 2020.