Imagine walking out of the doctor’s office for your check up at age 50 and beaming because you were told that you were at super low risk for heart disease. In fact, the doctor said you had ideal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose and smoking status. Would you be surprised that ideal levels are found in only a small number of those checked? Did they get their healthy heart status by luck or did they have lifestyle habits early in life that promoted winning the “ideal” status banner? Can you plan, even in your teens or 20’s to do the same?
CARDIA Study Shows Choices Matter When it Comes to Preventing Heart Disease
The Coronary Artery Risk Development in (Young) Adults Study or CARDIA has been studying the health of thousands of people recruited when they were 18-30 years old and followed for 20 years or more. They reported on habits associated with having this “ideal” heart status and the lessons are instructive and simple for all. At the beginning of the study, 44 percent had low risk heart status mainly because they were so young, and the “ideal” measurements by 20 years of follow-up fell to 25 percent of the group. Apparently things like getting older, jobs and raising families challenge us to remain on a healthy path.
The researchers looked at five simple lifestyle habits to see how they related to having the low cardiac risk at year 20. These habits were: not smoking, optimal body weight, and diet habits that incorporated higher amounts of fiber (think plants), potassium (think plants), calcium (think nuts and seeds) and less saturated fats (again think plants.) Regular physical activity and average alcohol intake (vs. none) were the other lifestyle habits measured. They also looked at a second score (AHEI) of food items and gave point for higher levels of eating vegetables, fruit, fish and poultry, non-meat protein like nuts and soy, whole grains, low trans fats, moderate alcohol intake, and a higher polyunsaturated to saturated fat intake.
The Results Are In
Drum roll please! Whether judged by the five lifestyle habits or the multi-component AHEI food score, the better the lifestyle at a young age, the greater was the chance of ending up in middle age with a low heart disease risk status. It is not chance, it is lifestyle choices baby! You are in control. Your fork, fingers and feet can determine your fate.
For example, participants who practiced all five lifestyle habits had a 60 percent low risk heart status compared to participants with zero to one healthy habits who had about a five percent chance of being rated low risk in mid-life. That is a big difference that will result in a much better chance of living a normal span of years without illness and disability. The same trend and numbers existed for those with the highest points on the AHEI score vs the lowest. The most powerful predictor of ending up low risk in mid-life was…..never smoking as the other positive lifestyle habits were most common in those that also chose to never smoke. So give it up now if you are still smoking. Eat leaves, don’t smoke them!
From a Doc’s Perspective
I heard a piece of ancient Indian wisdom this week I want to share. It says “A person with health has 1000 dreams while a person without good health has only one dream.” The message of the CARDIA trial is that you are never too young, or too old, to plan to lower your risk of heart disease, the number one killer in Western society. Failing to plan is planning to fail and it will steal your dreams. Never smoke, eat lots of your damn vegetables and fruits, work out, stay thin by passing up on extra processed junk foods, and enjoy a glass of wine now and then. Please keep my waiting room empty.
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