Heart age test prompts lifestyle changes

Research into more than 1,300 Australians who took the Heart Foundation’s online heart age test show that 50 per cent lost weight and more than 60 per cent increased their exercise and improved their diet just 10 weeks after receiving their result.


The findings, published in the international Journal of Medical Internet Research, provide a first-of its-kind insight into the profile of Australians’ heart health and the impact of the Heart Foundation’s Heart Age Calculator on health and lifestyle behaviours.


Co-author of the study, Risk Reduction Manager, Natalie Raffoul, said the findings showed people with a ‘heart age’ higher than their current age were also more likely to have seen their doctor for a formal Heart Health Check compared to those with a younger or equal heart age.


“This shows that completing the Heart Age Calculator worked very well at raising people’s awareness of their risk of heart disease,” Ms Raffoul said.


“Almost 50 per cent of people who did the test reported later visiting their doctor, and nearly a third reported having a Heart Health Check in the ten weeks after they received their heart age result and follow-up information.


“Two thirds of people had their blood pressure checked and more than half had a cholesterol or diabetes check.”


Two in five (40%) people felt very motivated to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke and nearly one in three (31%) were less stressed and reduced their alcohol intake.


The Heart Age Calculator is an online tool aimed at people aged 35 to 75 years that asks people questions about age, sex, smoking and diabetes status, height and weight, family history of heart disease, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels.


Key findings from the research

A follow-up survey of more than 1,300 people ten weeks after they completed the Heart Age Calculator revealed:

  • 2 in 5 (40%) felt very motivated and 1 in 4 (25%) felt very optimistic about making changes
  • 3 in 5 (62%) did more exercise and 2 in 5 (49%) lost weight
  • 3 in 5 (63%) improved their diet and 3 in 10 (31%) reduced their alcohol intake
  • 48% had already seen their GP and 28% had a Heart Health Check
  • 75% had a blood pressure check, 57% had a cholesterol check and 54% had a diabetes check


Lead author, Heart Foundation Research Fellow Dr Carissa Bonner from The University of Sydney, said the results show high public interest in online heart age tools, which can help raise awareness and prompt people to visit their doctor for a more accurate risk assessment.


“The findings show the Heart Age Calculator can evoke a memorable and emotional response from people. Ten weeks after receiving their heart age report, most survey respondents remembered their result and reported making positive lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke,” Dr Bonner said.


“Key to this process was helping people understand their risk factors more clearly by providing a personalised report and follow-up information about how to reduce their risk.”


As well as the survey, the research looked at the results of more than 360,000 Australians who took the heart age test and found nearly 80 per cent had an older “heart age”, on average nearly five years older than their current age. Men were almost twice as likely to receive an older heart age than women.


“Many Australians who took the heart age test didn’t know their blood pressure or blood cholesterol numbers. Knowing these numbers could save your life, which is why we urge all Australians aged 45 years and over, or 30 years for Indigenous Australians, to see their doctor for a Heart Health Check,” Ms Raffoul said.


In Australia, more than 115,000 Australians have received a Heart Health Check from their GP under the Medicare Benefits Scheme since the item was introduced in April 2019 at the urging of the Heart Foundation.


Since February, one in seven Australians aged between 35-75 have completed the Heart Age Calculator to understand their own risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and what to do next.


The Heart Age Calculator, which was launched in February 2019, is designed for people aged 35 to 75 years who do not have heart disease or have not previously had a heart attack or stroke.


18 August 2020.