The heart is more forgiving than you may think -- especially to adults who try to take charge of their health, a new Northwestern Medicine® study has found.
When adults in their 30s and 40s decide to drop unhealthy habits that are harmful to their heart and embrace healthy lifestyle changes, they can control and potentially even reverse the natural progression of coronary artery disease, scientists found.
“It’s not too late,” said Bonnie Spring lead investigator of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the WHRI Leadership Council. “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.”
On the flip side, scientists also found that if people drop healthy habits or pick up more bad habits as they age, there is measurable, detrimental impact on their coronary arteries.“If you don’t keep up a healthy lifestyle, you’ll see the evidence in terms of your risk of heart disease,” Spring said.
“This finding is important because it helps to debunk two myths held by some health care professionals,” Spring said. “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. 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.”
The bad news is that 40 percent of this sample lost healthy lifestyle factors and acquired more bad habits as they aged.“That loss of healthy habits had a measurable negative impact on their coronary arteries,” Spring said. “Each decrease in healthy lifestyle factors led to greater odds of detectable coronary artery calcification and higher intima-media thickness. 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.”
Spring said the healthy changes people in the study made are attainable and sustainable. She offers some tips for those who want to embrace a healthy lifestyle at any age:
- Keep a healthy body weight
- Don’t smoke
- Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five times a week
- No more than one alcoholic drink a day for women, no more than two for men
- Eat a healthy diet, high in fiber, low in sodium with lots of fruit and vegetables
The study was published June 30 in the journal Circulation.
Source: Northwestern News Center. By Erin White