redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Eliminating unhealthy habits such as losing weight and kicking the cigarette habit in your 30s and 40s could potentially reverse the natural progression of coronary artery disease, according to new research appearing in the June 30 edition of the journal Circulation.
According to lead investigator Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and her colleagues, deciding to embrace healthy lifestyle changes can control and perhaps even undo damage to a person’s heart. However, the opposite was also found to be true: picking up unhealthy habits as they grow older can have a measurable adverse impact on the coronary arteries.
“It’s not too late. You’re not doomed if you’ve hit young adulthood and acquired some bad habits. You can still make a change and it will have a benefit for your heart,” Spring said in a statement Tuesday. Likewise, if you fail to maintain a healthy lifestyle after the age of 30, “you’ll see the evidence in terms of your risk of heart disease,” she added.
The study authors looked at 5,000 patients who were enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. They examined five different types of healthy behaviors – not being overweight or obese, consuming low amounts of alcohol, maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active and being a non-smoker – in each, as well as coronary artery calcification and thickening among each of the participants.
Each subject was assessed at baseline, when they were between the ages of 18 and 30, and again 20 years later. At the beginning of the study, less than 10 percent of CARDIA participants said they engaged in all five healthy lifestyle behaviors. Two decades later, about 25 percent of them had added at least one additional healthy behavior.
Every additional healthy lifestyle factor was linked to reduced odds of two major markers that can predict future cardiovascular events – detectable coronary artery calcification and lower intima-media thickness. Spring said that the findings were important because they helped to debunk a pair of commonly held health-care myths.
“The first is that it’s nearly impossible to change patients’ behaviors. Yet, we found that 25 percent of adults made healthy lifestyle changes on their own,” she explained. “The second myth is that the damage has already been done – adulthood is too late for healthy lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease. Clearly, that’s incorrect. Adulthood is not too late for healthy behavior changes to help the heart.”
On the flip side, 40 percent of the study participants lost healthy lifestyle factors, acquiring more bad habits as they grew older. Spring said that this had “a measurable negative impact on their coronary arteries,” increasing their risk of detectable coronary artery calcification and higher intima-media thickness.
The researchers said that their findings demonstrate that healthy changes made by people in their 30s and 40s, such as maintaining a healthy body weight, cutting back on sodium and regularly participating in moderate physical activity, must be sustained. As Spring explained, “Adulthood isn’t a ‘safe period’ when one can abandon healthy habits without doing damage to the heart. A healthy lifestyle requires upkeep to be maintained.”