This prolonged good health also saves money on health care and
reduces Medicare spending, the study team writes in the journal
“As our population is getting older, it’s important to understand
how we can help individuals maintain healthier lives as they age,”
said lead author Norrina Allen of the Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
About 41 percent of the U.S. population will have cardiovascular
disease by 2030, according to the American Heart Association. It is
already the leading cause of death in the United States.
“We need to prevent the development of risk factors and disease
earlier in life,” she told Reuters Health. “We want to emphasize the
focus on prevention and maintaining health earlier, rather than
waiting until it’s already become a problem.”
Allen and colleagues analyzed data from the Chicago Heart
Association Detection Project, a 40-year study that recruited
participants 18 years and older from 1967 to 1973. The current study
focused on 25,800 people who had turned 65 by 2010, which
represented about 65 percent of the original participants.
The researchers looked at heart health during younger years,
categorizing participants according to whether they had one or more
heart risk factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol or body
mass index (BMI, a measure of weight relative to height, and whether
they had diabetes or smoked.
Six percent of the participants had none of these risk factors in
early adulthood and middle age, 19 percent had elevated readings of
one unfavorable factor, 40 percent had one risk factor measurement
that was high and 35 percent had two or more high risk factor
People with none of these problems were considered to have
“favorable” cardiovascular health. With one or more, their heart
health was rated as less and less favorable. Researchers also looked
at Medicare claims for treatments associated with any of the
They found that people with favorable heart health at younger ages
lived about four years longer altogether, survived about five years
longer before developing a chronic illness such as cancer or heart
failure and spent 22 percent less of their senior years with a
chronic disease compared to people with two or more heart risk
factors earlier in life. They also saved almost $18,000 in Medicare
[to top of second column]
“We tend to not focus on our cardiovascular health until later in
life,” Allen said. “It’s hard to promote that long-term vision of
thinking 30 years down the road.”
The research team plans to study other measures that could affect
health from middle to older age, such as socioeconomic status and
health insurance coverage.
Future studies should also look at broader prevention efforts, such
as health promotion in the workplace, said Khurram Nasir of the
Center for Healthcare Advancement and Outcomes in Coral Gables,
Florida. He wasn’t involved with the study but co-wrote an
“Nearly 60 percent of the entire U.S. population is in the
workforce, and prevention through worksite wellness programs
provides an opportunity to reach many Americans who would have been
hard to recruit otherwise,” Nasir told Reuters Health by email.
Plus, larger companies pay more than $578 billion per year in
healthcare expenditures to take care of employees, a large portion
of which is related to preventable conditions, Nasir added. About 15
percent of U.S. employers currently offer workplace wellness
“Upstream investment in these wellness and prevention programs can
potentially result in substantial savings in health care
expenditures,” he said. “In fact, a recent study we did showed the
benefits can be realized earlier in young employees with good heart
In addition to workplace programs, Nasir advocates personal
responsibility. “The message here is crystal clear,” he said. “Eat
smart, move more, don’t smoke, and maintain an ideal body weight.
This is the path to healthy aging and will also be light on your
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2pNREhl and http://bit.ly/2qIhKTc Circulation,
online May 1, 2017.
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