Cashing in on Healthy Lifestyles at an Early Age

Kind of creepy, no?

Sometimes during the course of my investigations into interesting Big Ten published papers I come across a study that seems to be common sense. But then again, just because you think A will lead to B doesn’t necessarily mean it actually does in the real world. So just to make sure, science takes a stab at it.

This is one of those examples. I ask you this – do you think young adults in their 20s who have a healthy lifestyle are more or less at risk to have an unhealthy heart come middle age? Naturally, you’d think their tickers would have a better shot to keep on ticking. Well, now it’s proven, and the numbers are fairly staggering.

Kiang Liu from Northwestern University took data from health surveys and exams administered to several thousand participants. Beginning in the late 1980s, these 20-32 year olds submitted to a health exam and questionnaire on health habits 7 and 20 years later.

Liu ran the numbers for those with certain numbers of healthy lifestyle choices (not smoking, low to moderate alcohol consumption, higher healthy diet score, higher physical activity score and healthy BMI) and checked out how their hearts were doing come middle age by looking at their heart disease risk factors (healthy levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, not smoking, no history of diabetes).

The more healthy lifestyles a person had in their early years, the better they scored on their cardiovascular disease risk assessment.

Let’s look at the numbers. With an average age of 24, nearly 44 percent had a low heart disease risk. But by 44, only 24.5 percent fell into that category. For those who had all five healthy lifestyle markers early in life, though, they were low risk 60.7 percent of the time.

That’s a pretty big difference – 24 percent versus 60.7. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the extra 40 percent chance of having a healthy heart, which has been linked in numerous studies to having a higher quality of life later on through the years.

On a side note, there were those in the study who had zero of the healthy life styles. I don’t know what genes the 3 percent of people have who smoke, drink a lot, are fat, don’t exercise and eat like crap, and yet still have low risk of heart disease, but I want them.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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