Do Visible Signs of Aging Mean Your Heart’s Not Healthy?

Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions last November suggests that if you’re displaying visible signs of aging, you may be at greater risk for heart disease than your more youthful-looking contemporaries. Researchers involved in the study analyzed 10,885 participants 40 years and older (45 percent women, 55 percent men) in 1976, examining them for various signs of aging—specifically, a receding hairline at the temples; baldness at the top of the head; yellow, fatty deposits around the eyelids; and creases in the earlobe.

When researchers followed up with these subjects in 2011, 35 years after their initial study, they discovered that 3,400 of the subjects examined had developed heart disease and 1,700 had suffered a heart attack. When they compared these numbers to their original data, they found that subjects who had exhibited three to four of the aging signs they’d looked at had a 57 percent increased risk for heart attack and a 39 percent increased risk for heart disease. Of the four signs, fatty deposits around the eyes were the strongest predictor of both heart attack and heart disease

This does not mean that you’re absolutely going to have a heart attack if you have a bald spot or fatty deposits around your eyes. It does mean, however, that you may be at higher risk for heart-related problems, especially if you’re displaying more than one of the signs of aging mentioned above. (And it means that if your doctor isn’t already checking you for these indicators at your annual physical, they should be.)

What about plastic surgery? Well, make no mistake—it is very unlikely that getting a facelift or a hair transplant will help you live longer or reduce your chance of developing heart disease (though it may improve your quality of life from a psychological standpoint!). Combating these visible signs of aging through cosmetic procedures will probably make you feel better about yourself, but it won’t address the underlying issue, which is physiological. So if you feel you’re looking older than you would like and you think a facelift will help, by all means, get one—but keep an eye on your heart, too!