Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of adults in all western cultures. Many people believe their fate has been sealed through the inheritance of ‘bad’ genes, and no degree of healthy living will have any effect on their risk of an untimely and early demise. More evidence that this thought process could not be more flawed is underscored by the work of researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine as published in the journal Circulation.
Scientists have found that maintaining a healthy lifestyle from childhood and into your 40’s and beyond can have a profound effect on reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease as you grow older. Consuming a heart healthy diet, regular physical activity, stress and blood pressure reduction and maintaining a normal body weight combine to dramatically lower heart disease risks compared to hereditary influences.
Five Modifiable Risk Factors Significantly Lower Heart Disease Risk in Later Life
The lead study author, Dr. Kiang Liu observed “In this study, even people with a family history of heart problems were able to have a low cardiovascular disease risk profile if they started living a healthy lifestyle when they were young.” Many people engage in unhealthy and potentially deadly lifestyle activities as they age that increasingly tip the scales toward the early development of heart disease.
Researchers indentified five independent lifestyle factors that directly influence the development of cardiovascular disease. These modifiable factors include maintaining a lean body mass index (BMI), no excess alcohol intake, no smoking, a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Individuals able to modify these risk markers were able to significantly lower heart disease risk in their middle-aged years and beyond.
Following Key Lifestyle Factors Significantly Reduce Heart Disease Risk
The study found that when the study participants were in their mid-twenties (average age of 24), nearly 44 percent had a low cardiovascular disease risk profile. After a period of twenty years, only 24 percent fell into the low risk category. Researchers found that sixty percent of the participants that maintained a lifestyle optimized in all five established risk factors remained in the low risk classification, compared to only five percent that followed none of the healthy lifestyles.
Dr. Liu concluded “Many studies suggest that people who have low cardiovascular risk in middle age will have a better quality of life and will live longer in their older age… there are a lot of benefits to maintaining a low-risk profile.” It will come as no surprise to those following healthy lifestyle patterns that small changes early in life can dramatically impact risk of chronic disease and overall lifespan. This research provides further evidence that children, teenagers and young adults must pay special attention to lifestyle factors including diet, alcohol and smoking to significantly reduce heart disease risk in later life.