Lifestyle changes can reverse heart damage
If you think a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors have doomed you to heart disease, take note: It’s not too late to make changes that can reverse the process, a new Northwestern Medicine study says.
The study, published in the June 30 edition of Circulation, found that when adults in their 30s and 40s kick heart-damaging bad habits and embrace healthy lifestyle changes, they could reverse the progression of coronary artery disease.
“It’s not too late,” says lead investigator Bonnie Spring, 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.”
Researchers looked at healthy lifestyle behaviors and coronary artery calcification and thickening of more than 5,000 participants in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study who were assessed when participants were ages 18 to 30 years of age and again 20 years later.
Healthy lifestyle factors included being an appropriate weight, being a physically active nonsmoker, having low alcohol intake and a eating a healthy diet. When the study began, 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 behavior.
Each added healthy lifestyle factor was associated with reduced odds of detectable coronary artery calcification and thickening, two major markers of heart disease that can predict future cardiovascular events.
“This finding is important because it helps debunk two myths held by some health-care professionals,” Spring says. “The first is that it’s nearly impossible to change patients’ behaviors. 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.”
Spring has these tips for embracing a healthy lifestyle at any age:
Maintain a healthy body weight.
Eat a healthy diet, high in fiber, low in sodium with lots of fruit and vegetables.
Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five times a week.
Don’t drink more than one alcoholic drink a day (women) or no more than two (men).