Lifestyle choices made in your 20s may impact your heart health in your 40s


Maintaining a healthy lifestyle from young adults to midlife is strongly associated with a low risk of cardiovascular disease in middle age, according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine.

“The problem is that few adults can maintain ideal cardiovascular health factors as they age,” said Kiang Liu, lead author of the study. “Many middle-aged adults eat unhealthy diets, gain weight, and aren’t as physically active. Such lifestyles, of course, lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and high cardiovascular risk.”

Liu is a professor and associate chair of research in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“In this study, even people with a family history of heart problems could have a low risk profile for cardiovascular disease if they began to adopt a healthy lifestyle when they were young,” Liu said. “It supports the idea that lifestyle may play a bigger role than genetics.”

Published on February 28 in the journal Circulation, this is the first study to show the association of a healthy lifestyle maintained throughout adulthood and middle age with a low risk of cardiovascular disease in middle age.

The majority of people who have maintained five healthy lifestyle factors since early adulthood (including a lean body mass index (BMI), no binge drinking, no smoking, a healthy diet and regular physical activity) were able to stay in this low risk category into their middle years.

In the first year of the study, when the average age of participants was 24, almost 44% had a low risk profile for cardiovascular disease. Twenty years later, overall, only 24.5% fell into the category of a low cardiovascular disease risk profile.

Sixty percent of those who maintained the five healthy lifestyles reached middle age with a low cardiovascular risk profile, compared with less than 5 percent who did not follow any of the healthy lifestyles.

The researchers used data collected over 20 years as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in (Young) Adults (CARDIA) study. It started in 1985 and 1986 with several thousand 18-30 year olds and has been following the same group of participants since.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, diet and exercise of more than 3,000 of the CARDIA participants to define a low cardiovascular disease risk profile and healthy lifestyle factors.

If the next generation of young people adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle, they will gain more than heart health, Liu said.

“Numerous studies suggest that people with low cardiovascular risk in middle age will have a better quality of life, live longer and have lower health insurance costs in old age,” he said. “There are a lot of benefits to maintaining a low risk profile. “

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the National Institutes of Health funded this research.

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Materials provided by Northwestern University. Original written by Erin White. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.


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