Your health in your 20s and 30s could determine future risk for heart disease, based on a recent study of 36,000 young adults whose health was tracked for nearly two decades. The study found that blood pressure and cholesterol levels in early adulthood have a strong impact on future heart risks, regardless of changes to health that may occur in middle age.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study looked at the long-term effects of health during young adulthood. It focused on the role of two factors—cholesterol and blood pressure—both of which play a major role in our risk for heart disease. The goal was to see how cholesterol and blood pressure in our early years affect future risk, even after accounting for health in older age.
In total, the study included 36,030 participants from six large U.S. studies. Participants were at least 18 at the start of the study and followed for roughly 17 years.
During the study period, there were more than 12,000 cases of heart disease, heart failure and stroke. Researchers found that high cholesterol in young adulthood was associated with 64% greater risk for heart disease, regardless of health after age 40. High blood pressure in early adulthood was also associated with up to 37% greater risk of heart failure after accounting for blood pressure later in life.
In this study, young adulthood was defined as ages 18-39, while later adulthood was defined as 40 and up.
What findings show, according to authors, is that risk factors early in life can have long-lasting effects on our health. These effects may still persist, even if you make healthy changes in your 40s or 50s.
As a result, authors highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle from an early age. High blood pressure and cholesterol are two major risk factors for heart disease—the leading cause of death in Americans. However, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can both be prevented and controlled with diet and exercise. As findings suggest, taking steps to promote heart health early in life helps reduce risk for heart disease as we age.
Read the article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.