February 25, 2024

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Heart Healthy Lifestyle Linked to Longer Life Without Diabetes, Cancer

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Exercise is one of the key components of a heart-healthy lifestyle. SolStock/Getty Images
  • Researchers say people who follow the Life Essential 8 recommendations tend to have healthier cardiovascular systems and live longer.
  • The eight recommended lifestyle elements include a healthy diet, regular exercise, weight management, and low cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Researchers say adopting these daily habits can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

Adults who live a heart-healthy lifestyle and have scores on the higher end of the American Heart Association’s Life Essential 8 cardiovascular heart chart tend to live longer with optimal health.

That’s according to a pair of studies presented at the association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023.

Both studies are based on the American Heart Association Life Essential 8 and participants were scored based on whether they implemented the points in their lives.

The Essential 8 are:

  • Eat better
  • Be more active
  • Quit tobacco
  • Get healthy sleep
  • Manage weight
  • Control cholesterol
  • Manage blood sugar
  • Manage blood pressure

The American Heart Association defined scores as:

  • Less than 50 – poor cardiovascular health
  • 51 to 80 – intermediate cardiovascular health
  • 81 – high cardiovascular health

The studies haven’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.

The first study looked at the levels of the American Heart Association Life Essential 8 and its correlation with life expectancy and living free of chronic disease.

The scientists reviewed the health data of 136,599 adults in the United Kingdom who did not have cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, or dementia at the start of the study.

The researchers compared life expectancy between the groups. They reported that adults who scored in the high cardiovascular health category at age 50 lived longer than those in the poor heart category. On average, men lived about 5 years longer and women lived about 6 years longer.

People with excellent cardiovascular health also live longer without chronic disease. Disease-free life expectancy accounted for nearly 76% of total life expectancy for men and more than 83% for women with ideal cardiovascular health.

In contrast, disease-free life expectancy was about 65% of men and about 69% of women with poor cardiovascular health.

“The ideal would be to follow healthy habits from the start,” said Dr. Alexandra Lajoie, a non-invasive cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

“But starting exercise, getting better sleep, and maintaining a healthy body weight improves blood pressure and blood sugar, and consequently reduces cardiovascular event risk for decades beyond age 50,” she told Healthline.

“It is never too late to improve your lifestyle,” Lajoie continued. “Heart-healthy changes at any age have been shown to improve quality of life and reduce the number of necessary prescription medications.”

Limitations to the study were that cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia were the only diseases included in the definition of disease-free life expectancy.

In the second study, researchers analyzed information, including Life’s Essential 8 scores, for more than 23,000 adults in the United States who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005 to 2018.

These researchers used the same categories as the first study.

The scientists found that people at age 50 with scores exceeding 80 had a life expectancy of about 33 additional years. The remaining life expectancy was about 25 years for people with poor cardiovascular health.

“Quitting smoking is the best thing to improve heart health,” Lajoie said. “After that, it’s maintaining a regular exercise routine.”

People who maintain cardiovascular health have benefits throughout their older years, but further research is needed to see how changes, such as quitting smoking change their life expectancy.

“Although all of the 8 Healthy Living points are important and are intertwined with each other, diet and exercise together is a good place to start developing healthy habits,” said Dr. Aeshita Dwivedi, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Our genetics play a large role in our overall health, but living a healthy life can minimize the effects of our genes.”

“It is important to note that most participants were Caucasian,” noted Dwivedi. “We don’t know if the results would be different if there were more diversity. However, it is unsurprising that living a heart-healthy lifestyle would provide more health benefits.”

“Studies such as these are encouraging and can motivate people to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” Dwivedi told Healthline. “It is especially encouraging that people who scored low and then changed some habits and transitioned from low to better scores saw improvements in their health and life expectancy.”