We know that coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States, but a recent study that collected 60 years of data indicates that heart disease prevention is working.
When middle-aged adults across six decades were analyzed for their lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease for “The Framingham Study,” researchers found that both men and women are developing heart disease later in life and less often.
The study authors conclude that postponed cardiovascular events may be the result of a greater life expectancy in recent decades, but the long-term risk of heart disease has decreased — and this underscores the need for continued preventive public health measures.
Study Findings: Heart Disease Prevention Methods Working
An analysis published in Circulation in April 2022 assessed data in three 20-year periods from a single community to measure what’s called “remaining lifetime risk” (RLR) for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Here’s what you need to know about the study:
- Data for adults in three epochs or time periods (1960–1979, 1980–1999 and 2000–2018) was collected and evaluated.
- The risk of a cardiovascular event, including myocardial infraction, coronary heart disease death or stroke, from 45 years old in the three time periods was compared.
- Of the adult participants, 56 percent were women, and 94 percent were white.
- When measuring cardiovascular episodes or death, researchers categorized adults by risk factors, including sex, body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes, and smoking.
- Researchers concluded that since 1960, overall life expectancy has increased by 11.9 years for women and 10.1 years for men.
- The lifetime risk of development heart disease fell from one in three women and one in two men between 1960–1979 to less than one in four women and one in three men between 2000–2018.
- Compared to the 1960–1979 group, cardiovascular events occurred later in life for both sexes from 2000–2018, occurring, on average, 10 years later for women and eight years later for men.
What It Means
This 60-year study suggests that in recent decades there has been a postponement of heart disease and greater life expectancy for both men and women. While this is promising news and highlights the importance of preventative measures and education surrounding heart health, there are some study limitations to keep in mind.
The study participants were predominately white and living in northeastern areas of the United States. The lifelong risks of cardiovascular events may vary among other locations and ethnicities.
That said, the data collected for this study shows that educational efforts regarding heart disease prevention has been useful in recent years, especially in pinpointing major risk factors, including tobacco use, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Continuing to focus on preventing these contributors to heart disease is sure to move the needle going forward.
Tips for a Healthy Heart
When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, lifestyle changes go a long way. Here’s what you can do today to greatly reduce the risk of heart disease:
- Eat a balanced diet. A healthy, balanced diet includes high-quality protein sources, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, herbs and spices, and fresh fruits and vegetables. When you crowd your plate with these foods, you get a range of nutrients in your diet and help the body maintain optimal health.
- Avoid inflammatory foods. Reduce or avoid foods that hinder heart health, including refined carbohydrates, processed meats, sugary foods, packaged snacks and foods made with artificial sweeteners.
- Exercise daily. Moving your body is critical for avoiding cardiovascular events. Get your blood pumping throughout the day by taking walks, doing yoga, swimming, biking, jogging, lifting weights or stretching.
- Reduce stress. Long-term increased cortisol levels will cause inflammation and impact the health of your heart. Relieve chronic stress with relaxing exercises, more face-to-face interactions, more time outdoors, journaling, meditation and prayer, or talk therapy.
- Get enough sleep. Opt for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, beginning with a consistent p.m. routine that allows you to unwind and “turn off” your brain for the night.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking or using tobacco products will increase your risk of heart disease.
- Try heart healthy supplements. Omega-3 fish oil, curcumin, coenzyme Q10 and carotenoids are commonly used to control inflammation and promote cardiovascular health.
- An analysis published in Circulation assessed data in three 20-year periods from a single community to measure how the lifetime risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease has changed over time.
- Researchers found that U.S. heart disease prevention is working, at least in some capacity, based on the data.
- Compared to decades ago, both male and female adults are living longer and experiencing cardiovascular events later in life and less frequently.
- Although more data on adults in other areas of the country and other ethnicities is needed, this study highlights the importance of minimizing risk factors for heart disease and using a preventative approach to health.