Change Bad Habits Early, Save Your Heart Later
Young adults who adopt healthier lifestyle can cut their heart disease risk, researchers say
The more healthy habits that were added, the lower the risk of heart disease, the researchers found. "We can't claim cause-and-effect," Spring said, because the study only found an association between the two.
However, the more healthy habits that were added, the lower the risk of finding the early signs of heart problems, she explained. The more that were discarded, the higher the risk.
For instance, those who kept the same habits over the 20 years had nearly a 20 percent risk of having the early signs of heart disease by year 20. Those who discarded three or four healthy behaviors had a 32 percent risk of having the early heart disease signs. And those who added three or four healthy habits reduced the risk to just 5 percent.
What to do first? The two habits that had the most effect, Spring said, were keeping a healthy weight and not smoking.
Those two habits might have shown the greatest effect simply because they are easier to measure, Spring said. Even so, she suggested those two habits are a good place to start.
The study is published in the July 1 issue of the journal Circulation and was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
One expert noted the study shows that lifestyle choices made early in adulthood may make all the difference.
"This new study provides new insight into how lifestyle changes from ages 18 to 30 play out over the next 20 years," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiovascular medicine and science at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
While much research has shown how unhealthy habits add to the risk of heart problems, Fonarow said, "it has not been well studied to determine how changes in lifestyle in early adulthood impact subsequent development of atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] and cardiovascular risk."
The findings, he said, "suggest it is never too early to adopt a healthy lifestyle but that even those who start off on the wrong path can substantially turn their cardiovascular risk around by making favorable lifestyle choices in early adulthood."