Lifestyle changes in middle age still beneficial

A report published in the July 2007 issue of The American Journal of Medicine concluded that adopting lifestyle changes relatively late in life is still an effective means to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and lengthen life.

Dana E. King, MD, MS, along with Arch G. Mainous III, PhD, and Mark E. Geesey, MS at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston studied 15,792 men and women aged 45 to 64 who enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) between 1987 to 1989. The study was conducted by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to investigate the origin and progression of atherosclerotic diseases. Follow up visits were scheduled every three years through 1998 to obtain updated information on the participants' weight, medical history, diet, smoking status and exercise levels.

The researchers found that only 8.4 percent of the over-45 population newly adopted four healthy behaviors: consuming five or more fruits and vegetables daily, exercising a minimum of 2.5 hours per week, maintaining their body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 30 kilograms per meter, and not smoking. This group experienced a 35 reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and a 40 percent reduction in mortality over the follow-up period compared with participants who adopted three or fewer behaviors.

“The potential public health benefit from adopting a healthier lifestyle in middle age is substantial," the authors conclude. "The current study demonstrated that adopting four modest healthy habits considerably lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in relatively short-term 4-year follow up period. The findings emphasize that making the necessary changes to adhere to a healthy lifestyle is extremely worthwhile, and that middle-age is not too late to act.”