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Heart Healthy Habits May Slow Aging, Reduce Disease Risk

— June 21, 2024

Study shows certain lifestyle habits can slow the aging process and lower the risk of death.

Maintaining a healthy heart goes beyond just avoiding cardiovascular disease. New research suggests it might also slow the aging process and reduce one’s risk of death from various causes. The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, involved over 5,600 adults and examined the connection between following a heart healthy lifestyle and biological aging. Biological age is a marker that reflects how well one’s cells are functioning, and it’s influenced by genetics, incorporating healthy habits into a person’s routine, and stress levels.

Researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential Eight checklist to assess participants’ cardiovascular health. This includes diet, physical activity, sleep, smoking status, body mass index, cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. They also analyzed participants’ DNA methylation, a process that regulates gene expression and is a potential indicator of biological aging.

The findings were promising. People with higher Life’s Essential Eight scores were found to have a younger biological age than those with lower scores. For every 13-point increase in their score, participants saw a 35% decrease in the risk of developing new cardiovascular disease, a 36% reduction in death from cardiovascular disease, and a 29% decline in death from any cause.

Heart Healthy Habits May Slow Aging, Reduce Disease Risk
Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

Dr. Jiantao Ma, the study’s lead author, said, “Our study tells us that no matter your actual age, better heart-healthy behaviors and managing heart disease risk factors were associated with a younger biological age and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, death from heart disease and stroke, and death from any cause.”

The study also explored how genetics might influence these results. Participants with a higher genetic risk of accelerated biological aging saw an even greater benefit from maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle. Their Life’s Essential Eight scores had a nearly 40% association with cardiovascular health compared to 20% for all participants.

This suggests that even if a person has a genetic predisposition towards faster aging, following a healthy lifestyle can significantly counteract those effects.

The study does have some limitations worth noting. The research relied on previously collected data, so it can’t definitively prove cause and effect. Additionally, the participants were mainly white, so the results might not be generalizable to all ethnicities.

However, the findings add to the growing body of evidence highlighting the importance of heart health. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are crucial for keeping one’s heart healthy.

Experts emphasize that lifestyle changes are the cornerstone of managing heart health. Although medications may be necessary in some cases, they should complement, not replace, healthy habits like regular exercise and a nutritious diet.

Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in California, who was not involved in the study, said, “Changing lifestyle factors is always where you start. They are the baseline. However, when improvement is not forthcoming, medication might be necessary. But medicine doesn’t take the place of lifestyle factors – it adds to them.”

Early detection and treatment of cardiovascular disease is essential for preventing serious complications. If experiencing chest pain, pressure, or tightness in the chest, especially during physical activity, a racing heart, skipping beats, fainting, shortness of breath, fatigue, or leg swelling, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional.


Heart-healthy habits keep you biologically young, study shows

Heart-healthy habits may improve cardiovascular health, slow biological aging

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