Prevention is key to a longer, healthier life, based on a study that found that middle-aged adults with no cardiovascular risk factors live four years longer and postpone health problems by up to seven years.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study looked at the long-term impact of cardiovascular risk factors on health and health care costs. It’s one of the largest studies of its kind, tracking the health of more than 25,800 adults from 1967 through 2010.
Conducted in Chicago, this study used health questionnaires and medical assessments to identify key cardiovascular risk factors that participants had at the start of the study. Risk factors included high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being a smoker, having diabetes and being obese. Participants with none of these risk factors had what researchers called “favorable” health, while those with at least one risk factor were considered high risk. Participants who were on their way to developing a risk factor, such as those who were overweight or had elevated blood pressure, were considered to have “elevated” risk.
The average age of participants was 44 years, and all participants were followed until at least age 65.
Based on initial assessments, only 6% of participants had favorable heart health, while 19% had elevated risk and 75% were considered high risk. After analysis, researchers found that those with favorable heart health lived longer and healthier lives than those with higher risk.
On average, middle-aged adults with no cardiovascular risk factors lived four years longer than those with two or more risk factors. Adults with favorable health also postponed conditions like cancer and dementia by four and a half years, and postponed the development of heart disease by seven years compared to those with the highest risk.
Analysis of Medicare claims also showed that adults with favorable health had significantly lower health-related costs than those with higher risk.
What this study highlights, according to authors, is the importance of prevention. By maintaining a healthy heart, especially during middle age, we can help ward off serious health problems down the road. Authors hope findings help motivate adults to take steps to address any risk factors they may have and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Experts also add that based on findings, we need to put additional resources into heart disease prevention. Currently, less than 5% of all health care spending in the U.S. goes to prevention. However, experts argue that spending more on prevention today could help save both money and lives down the road.