Adults can undo heart disease risk

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.

The study was published June 30 in the journal Circulation.

“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. “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.

For this paper, scientists examined healthy lifestyle behaviors and coronary artery calcification and thickening among the more than 5,000 participants in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study who were assessed at baseline (when participants were ages 18 to 30) and 20 years later.

The healthy lifestyle factors assessed were: not being overweight/obese, being a nonsmoker and physically active and having low alcohol intake and a healthy diet. By young adulthood (at the beginning of the study), less than 10 percent of the CARDIA participants reported all five healthy lifestyle behaviors. At the 20-year mark, about 25 percent of the study participants had added at least one healthy lifestyle behavior.

Each increase in healthy lifestyle factors was associated with reduced odds of detectable coronary artery calcification and lower intima-media thickness — two major markers of cardiovascular disease that can predict future cardiovascular events.

“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 material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.


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2 thoughts on “Adults can undo heart disease risk”

  1. “Each increase in healthy lifestyle factors was associated with reduced odds of detectable coronary artery calcification and lower intima-media thickness — two major markers of cardiovascular disease that can predict future cardiovascular events.”

    I was interested to read of these two markers. But how does one measure them and how can one get a regular doctor to do so or to prescribe regular measurements sop that one can have a feed-back on attempts to improve health?

  2. Most sensible and logical and helpful study seen long time indeed : In fact the study could have been extended to much older age group too rather than 30s and 40 s relatively young age for Coronary Atherosclerosis as well as Cerebral Atherosclerosis (Strokes + Heart attacks ) .
    Let me give a personal advise for this occasion , I personally earned my living in this field of Medicine and beyond held 2 separate specialty Boards in Medicine with 37 years of clinical experience before retiring :
    In reality The Atherosclerosis is simply a `nutritional disease` of homo sapiens who had unknowingly forced to adopt `un natural diet`habits in relation to `evolutionary` time over 5 million years . Starting point was running after migrant herds for food –carnivore life style- Early on Paleolithic and Neolithic times which is radical change from primarily `vegetarian` evolution and life style over millions of years going back to MRCA (Most recent Common Ancestor) . They (Paleolithic and Neolithic men) did not know it of course –still in this age 21st century we live in , we (homo sapiens) do not even realize that we are not primarily evolved with carnivore diet – it is simple to convince any one
    .. just look at your teeth ..! do you see any `long sharp canine` teeth ? in your mouth for carnivore life style evolved animal out there ? of course not and then “the case is closed …”
    Cellular Differentiation and physical change of Arterial(Coronary ) endothelial , intimal and medial layers in response to to `chemical ( unusually high cholesterol and saturated fat load due to carnivore life style + toxic effects of CO(Carbon monoxide of cigarette smoke on endothelial cells ) as well as physical(blood pressure) SALT and volume load ` stresses beyond `normal` is well known to degenerate(calcifications) as well as compensatory changes (called hypertrophy) of vessel walls . It is also curious when this SALT ADDITIVE –addiction of taste buds -so to speak in diet – which is very obviously unnatural evolutionary vise- had occurred in Neolithic times and continuous to this 21st century we live in …
    What is important to know all these cellular level changes –in any age- of living men/women IS REVERSIBLE ..Simply because all these changes are –REACTION and DIFFERENTIATION OF CELL LAYERS OF BLOOD VESSEL – to beyond unnatural limits of stress (chemical as well as physical) changes forced upon these cell layers …! these vessel wall differentiated cells (endothelium –intima and media) ONCE THE REASON OF THEIR COMPENSATORY DIFFERENTIATION (Calcification and hypertrophy included) ELIMINATED BY CHANGE IN DIET HABITS TO NATURAL VEGETARIAN DIET – we are evolved in- AS WELL AS ELIMINATION OF (UNNATURAL SALT ADDITIVE INTAKE ) means extra blood volume and blood pressure – simply we did not evolve with SALT ADDITIVES in diet at all we do not need extra salt which increases blood volume (unnaturally) and increases blood pressure and stress to the vessel walls .. Once the Carnivore diet +SALT ADDITIVES RAE GONE FOR GOOD …THAN THE STIMULUS OF DIFFERENTIATION OF THESE VESSEL WALL LAYERS CELLS IS ALSO GONE FOR GOOD ..And the REVERSIBLE PROCESS STARTS … It is estimated 2 years to reverse these changes provided that the individual consciously and strictly adheres to the NEW diet habits …
    Let me add one more important detail and advise here …You do NOT have to RUN or exercise LIKE A HORSE like some suggests but just be in normal weight range and just chose to walk rather than drive …BUT completely eliminate Carnivore diet+SALT ADDITIVES in diet as well as TOXIC CO(Carbon monoxide of Cigarette or Pot smoking ) you will be set to go for `brand new blood vessels of your coronaries of your heart as well as cerebral vessels of your brain ` 2 years down the road … And the improvement on these vessels are PROGRESSIVE and ADDITIVE from the start on day one …


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