Be healthy now, your body will thank you later

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle from early adulthood contributes to a low cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk profile in middle age.

Researchers at Northwestern University examined in a longitudinal study, that began in 1985, whether having a low cardiovascular risk profile which included having normal cholesterol, normal blood pressure, never smoking, and no history of diabetes or heart attack was associated with maintaining healthy lifestyle factors (HLFs) throughout young adulthood.

The Coronary Artery Risk Development in (Young) Adults (CARDIA) study consisted of 3154 men and women 18 to 30 years old, with a mean age of 25.

Low CVD risk profiles are remarkably low in the U.S. population, only about 7.5 percent according to the CARDIA study.[1]

The HLFs selected for the study included never smoking, habitual moderate to vigorous physical activity, a body mass index (BMI) less than 25 kg/m2, modest or no alcohol consumption and a healthy diet.

“The prevalence of the low risk profile in middle age was significantly and substantially higher with increasing numbers of HLFs during the period from young adulthood to middle age,” (CARDIA).

The results found:

  • After 20 years, the prevalence of a low risk CVD profile for participants was 3, 14.6, 29.5, 39.2 and 60.7 percent for 0 to 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 HLFs, respectively. The “attributable risk” for this steep grade was explained by not having all five HLFs in the first place.
  • A low risk CVD profile was higher in with participants who had an average BMI less than 25 kg/m2, never smoked, had no or moderate alcohol intake, had a healthier diet, and with those who had higher levels of physical activity
  • Benefits of a low CVD risk profile in middle age were maybe to be expected. In follow-up data studies mortality rates from coronary heart disease and CVD in participants with the low CVD risk profile were lower. These participants also had lower rates of various chronic diseases at older ages for these participants.

The results suggest people do benefit from improving their lifestyle at any age but they would benefit most if they maintained a healthy lifestyle from young adulthood to middle age.

“If all U.S. adults had a low risk profile between 2000 and 2010, 372,000 fewer coronary heart disease deaths (95 percent) would have occurred in 2010,”[2] (Capewell et al.).

The study Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, this article appears in the February 2012 issue of Circulation journal.


[1] Ford ES, Li C, Zhao G, Pearson WS, Capewell S. Trends in the prevalence of low risk factor burden for cardiovascular disease among United States adults. Circulation. 2009;120:1181–1188

[2] Capewell S, Ford ES, Croft JB, Critchley JA, Greenlund KJ, Labarthe DR. Cardiovascular risk factor trends and potential for reducing coronary heart disease mortality in United States of America. Bull World Health Organ. 2010;88:120 –130. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2814476/

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