Heart scare

Amanda wonders if she’s got the heart for a medical ‘wake-up call’…

You occasionally hear about people who have been rushed into hospital for some unexpected trauma only for their relatives to be reassured with the words, “Don’t worry – they have the heart of a 25-year-old”.  Generally they’re not talking about their success on some cradle-snatching dating site, but their enviable health constitution.

Heart with a stethoscope

I’ve just had a similar situation in reverse. This week, thanks to the lovely sunny weather, I managed to walk into work, do some token digging in the garden and even fit in a romp round the heath. By Wednesday I was feeling if not fit – then close enough to it to at least glimpse it galloping ahead of me on the horizon, a bit like Ross Poldark in pursuit of Demelza but without the tricorn hat.

The daffodils, next-door’s new dog and the sunshine all combined to put a spring in my step, not to mention the return of Poldark (return you say? I am obviously far too young to remember ever hearing of it before, ever).

That was until this morning, when I took my life in my hands and decided to test the NHS Heart Age Calculator, aka “How Long Have I Got Doc?” It’s an online calculator designed to work out the medical age of your heart, compared with your biological age; it tells you how long it thinks you will live before you risk having a heart attack or a stroke. Now, being of a nervous disposition with a line of not-so-long-lived relatives with dicky hearts behind me, I’m not sure it was a wise decision to take the test. The calculator has, after all, been described as a “blunt tool” designed to give Britons a wakeup call to scare them into changing their lifestyles. Now I’m no medic, but I’m not sure that giving someone with a potential risk of heart failure “a wake-up call with a blunt tool” is the ideal way to ensure that they live long and prosper.

Still, in for a penny. I trundled my way through the test, dutifully filling in my age, weight and height and any medical details I had. I think I gained years for hereditary factors like relatives with heart disease, and lost some because I don’t know what my cholesterol is (they give you a non-judgemental average), gaining yet more years because I do have slightly high blood pressure.

I pressed the final button; ping! It turns out the medical age of my heart is 67. SIXTY SEVEN? I almost keeled over on the spot. I was hoping the test would give me the motivation I needed to get back to the gym. Instead I could barely muster the energy to shuffle off to the kettle to make myself a cup of hot sweet tea. Now what? Should I bother turning up for work today or will I find that I’ve been officially retired for the last two years?  Perhaps I should just go straight to the Post Office and claim my Freedom Pass.

Still there is one upside – when I look in the mirror first thing in that dangerous, early morning Twilight zone (pre-make up on, but post-contact lenses in) I can at least say, hand on heart, that I don’t look bad for my age.

Amanda Blinkhorn is a freelance journalist who has been writing about money, family life and everything in between since she was 19.

She blogs here almost every day and writes the Money Matters finance column in Candis magazine as well as for The Sunday Times and other newspapers and magazines. She lives in London with her four children aged between 8 and 19. She has almost finished training to be an adult literacy teacher and will qualify this summer, if she ever finishes those pesky essays.

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