According to scientists from the Northwestern University in Chicago, embarking on a healthier lifestyle in middle age can control and even reverse the natural progression of coronary heart disease.
Simple changes like quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, choosing healthier foods and taking regular exercise are enough to undo heart damage and dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack.
In stark contrast however, people who adopt unhealthy habits as they age are more likely to inflict significant damage on their heart.
Lead researcher, professor Bonnie Spring, said: “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.
“But if you don’t keep up a healthy lifestyle, you’ll see the evidence in terms of your risk of heart disease.”
Changes in your 30s and 40s were found to have the most impact on heart health, and this conclusion was reached following the assessment of 5,000 participants over several decades.
Researchers studied healthy lifestyle behaviours and coronary artery calcification and thickening, and assessed participants at ages 18 to 30 then 20 years later.
The healthy lifestyle factors assessed were:
- Not being obese or overweight.
- Being a non-smoker.
- Keeping physically active.
- Having a low alcohol intake.
- Eating a healthy diet.
By young adulthood, less than one in 10 of participants reported all five healthy lifestyle behaviours.
Later on, at the 20-year mark, around 25% had added at least one healthy behaviour.
With every increase of a healthy lifestyle behaviour, participants showed significantly reduced odds of detectable coronary artery calcification.
Prof Spring said that this finding helped to debunk two particular myths held by some healthcare professionals – that it’s nearly impossible to change behaviour and that any damage already done cannot be reversed.
If you need help sticking to a healthy lifestyle, you may want to consider speaking to a life coach. Coaching can provide you with motivation to keep going, whilst helping you to see the changes as a positive thing rather than something you feel pressured to do. For more information, please see our health page.
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