Not Too Late for Young Adults to Lower Heart Disease Risk

Young adults who adopt healthy lifestyle habits can lower coronary heart disease risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Healthy living is marked by things like not smoking or drinking too much, eating right and exercising. If you haven't done those things by young adulthood, has the damage already been done?

It’s not too late, according to a new study. This study asked whether adopting healthy lifestyle habits between 18 and 30 could alter one's risk for coronary heart disease, the leading medical killer of men and women.

The researchers found that people who adopted healthy habits lowered their risk of coronary heart disease.

"Start practicing healthy habits today."

Bonnie Spring, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, was the lead author of this new study.

The research team analyzed whether adopting healthy lifestyle habits as an adult, as opposed to from an early age, can reduce chances of developing coronary artery disease.

Coronary artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart, and it’s the most common type of heart disease.

Dr. Spring and her colleagues looked at 5,000 young adults, age 18 to 30 years old, and gauged their lifestyle habits.

These researchers specifically considered whether participants were overweight, had a low alcohol intake, consumed a healthy diet, were physically active and did not smoke.

At the beginning of the study, 10 percent of the study group reported all five healthy habits. To establish a baseline, the team took samples to determine the extent of plaque buildup.

At the 20-year follow-up point, the researchers found that 25.3 percent of study participants had adopted other healthy habits, 40.4 percent had dropped some habits, 34.4 percent stayed the same and 19.2 percent had progressed to artery clogging.

Across the board, an increase in healthy lifestyle habits was associated with reduced plaque buildup in the arteries, and a decrease in healthy lifestyle habits was associated with a worsening of artery condition.

“This finding is important because it helps to debunk two myths held by some health care professionals,” Dr. Spring said in a prepared statement.

“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," Dr. Spring said.

“It’s not too late," she continued. “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.”

This study was published June 30 in the peer-reviewed journal Circulation.

The research was funded by grants from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
July 9, 2014
Last Updated:
July 10, 2014