(Reuters Health) - Meeting some or all of the American Heart Association’s seven ideal cardiovascular health goals is associated with longer life and fewer heart attacks and strokes, no matter your age.
In fact, in a recent group of elderly patients, “the benefit of an ideal cardiovascular health in reducing mortality and vascular events was comparable to what is observed in younger populations,” Dr. Bamba Gaye from University Paris Descartes in France told Reuters Health by email. “This is a very good news, which suggests that it is never too late to prevent the development of risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).”
Gaye and colleagues analyzed whether achieving some or all of the American Heart Association (AHA) seven “ideal” goals – “Life’s Simple 7” - would affect people’s risk of dying or having a stroke or heart attack during a specific study period.
The seven goals include:
-Keep body mass index (BMI) - a ratio of weight to height - lower than the overweight cutoff;
-Never start smoking, or have stopped at least 12 months ago;
-For at least 75 minutes a week, perform vigorous activity, or perform moderate physical activity at least 150 minutes a week;
-Follow a healthy diet that includes vegetables and fresh fruit daily, fish twice or more a week, and less than 450 calories a week from sugar;
-Keep blood pressure below 120/80 without medication;
-Maintain a normal cholesterol level without medication;
-Maintain a normal blood sugar without medication.
Out of the 7371 study participants, whose average age was 74, only one individual had met all seven goals. Only 5% of participants met at least five goals, researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
For all goals except physical activity and total cholesterol, women were more likely than men to be at ideal levels.
The research team tracked the study subjects to monitor their health; half of the participants were tracked more than nine years.
Compared to people who meet no more than two of the goals, in those who met three or four the risk of death during the study was reduced by 16 percent, and meeting five to seven goals cut the risk by 29 percent.
In fact, the risk of death fell by 10 percent for each additional goal at the ideal level.
Similarly, the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke fell by 22 percent for each additional goal at the ideal level.
“The ideal goal would be to have no risk factors for cardiovascular disease at all,” Gaye said. “However, our study also shows a graded benefit on outcome according to the number of risk factors at the optimal level. Hence, a perhaps more realistic approach would be to advise older subjects to have at least one risk factor at an optimal level, and to progressively gain more risk factors at optimal level.”
“We would like emphasize that (good) health in general and cardiovascular health in particular is the cornerstone of (good) life and we all need to take care of it over the life course,” Gaye concluded. “The good news is that it is never too late to optimize our own health in elderhood.”
“The goal of successful aging is not immortality, but limiting time spent with illness and disability,” writes Dr. Karen P. Alexander from Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina in an editorial published with the study.
This study, she continued, “reminds us that risk factor and lifestyle modifications have no expiration date and continue to yield benefits for a healthy old age, well beyond age 70.”
“Older adults should focus not so much on the perfect attainment of Life’s Simple 7, but on the process of working to achieve these goals,” she concludes.
Dr. Dana E. King from West Virginia University Medicine, Morgantown, West Virginia, who has studied elderly health extensively, told Reuters Health by email, "It is never too late to start or improve your healthy lifestyle habits. Elderly people who adopt healthier diets, get active, and quit smoking, actually benefit sooner and to a greater degree than young people.”
This version of the story was refiled to correct typo in paragraph four, bullet point 2