The motivational quote “today is my tomorrow” is a reminder that the actions you take in the present have a tremendous impact on the future. While this holds true for all aspects of life, a recent study has proven how it can affect the health of your golden years.
A study reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation suggests that people with no major heart disease risk factors in middle age spend less of their later years with chronic illnesses of all types. They also save money on healthcare costs.
Impact of mid-life cardiovascular health on senior years
As part of the 40-year-study, researchers examined data from the Chicago Health Association study, which did initial health assessments in the late 1960s/early 1970s and has followed participants on an ongoing basis using Medicare health records. The aim of the study was to determine the impact of cardiovascular health in middle age on the duration of illness later in life.
The researchers compared the records of participants with favorable factors—non-smokers, free of diabetes, normal weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels—against the participants with high-risk factors.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that among the 17,939 participants, those who reached age 65 without a chronic illness and had favorable risk factors:
- lived an average of 3.9 years longer;
- survived 4.5 years longer before developing a chronic illness;
- spent 22 percent fewer of their senior years with a chronic illness (39 percent vs. 50 percent); and
- saved almost $18,000 in Medicare costs.
However, if one looks solely at heart disease in the 18,714 participants who reached age 65 without having a heart attack, stroke, or congestive heart failure, those with all favorable risk factors:
- lived 6.9 years longer without heart disease; and
- spent 46.5 percent fewer of their senior years with heart disease.
For tomorrow’s sake, look after your heart today
Based on the results of the study, Dr. Norrina Allen, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said, “Good cardiovascular health in middle age delays the onset of many types of disease so that people live longer and spend a proportionately lesser time of their lives with chronic illness.”
She further added that it is important for health professionals to let young adults know that maintaining or adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle increases the chances of not only living longer but being healthy enough to do the things they plan to do when they are older.
The worrying aspect of the study was that at the start of the study, when participants average age was 44, only 5.6 percent of participants had all favorable factors.
Dr. Allen says, “The small proportion of participants with favorable levels in their 40s is a call for all of us to maintain or adopt healthy lifestyles earlier in life. But risk factors and their effects accumulate over time, so even if you have risks it’s never too late to reduce their impact on your later health by exercising, eating right, and treating your high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.”
Your health is your responsibility. The American Heart Association has pinpointed seven factors—cigarette smoking, physical activity, diet, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and glucose levels—that you can work on to help improve heart health. All these factors are achievable in the majority of people, and it is in your own interest to do all you can today to ensure a better tomorrow.