You can turn the tide on future disease risk by changing bad habits today, according to a study from Northwestern University in Chicago. In this longitudinal study of 3,538 men and women enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, researchers evaluated the participants when they were aged 18- to 30-years-old and again 20 years later, looking for changes that predicted heart disease.
They charted five health habits: 1) not being overweight, 2) being a nonsmoker, 3) being physical active, 4) having a low intake of alcohol, and 5) having a healthy diet (defined as being low in fat and high in calcium, fiber, and potassium). At baseline, less than 10% of the participants reported all five health habits. During the subsequent 20 years, 25% of them made healthy lifestyle changes, about 35% stayed the same, and 40% had fewer healthy habits.
Results showed that the more healthy habits that were added, the lower the risk of heart disease. The more health habits dropped, the higher the disease risk. For example, those who kept the same habits during the following 20 years had about a 20% risk of developing early onset of heart disease, while those who discarded three to four healthy habits had a 32% risk. Those participants who added three to four healthy habits had lowered their risk to a mere 5%. The two habits with the greatest impact on future health were 1) maintaining a lean body and 2) not smoking.
Spring B, Moller A, Colangelo L, et al: Healthy lifestyle change and subclinical atherosclerosis in young adults. Circulation 2014;130:10-17.