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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern Study: Evaluating Cardiovascular Health in Middle Age

A new study published in the journal Circulation, found that people with no major heart disease risk factors in middle age live and stay healthy longer than others. This study is the first to analyze the impact of cardiovascular health in middle age on the duration of illness later in life.

“We really want to understand the life course of cardiovascular health and how it affects the cumulative burden of disease as people age,” said Dr. Norrina Allen, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Program in Public Health, and principal investigator of the study. “We are interested in a more holistic definition of healthy aging beyond just mortality.”

“The ideal lifespan would be to live a long life without the burden of disease. People in better cardiovascular health in middle-age are more likely to live a long and healthy life,” Dr. Allen said.

Scientists studied data from the Chicago Health Association study, which recruited participants from Chicago worksites from 1967 to 1972, and has been following participants since then using Medicare records.

The current study compared data from 17,939 participants who had reached age 65 without a chronic illness to those with two or more high-risk factors including diabetes, overweight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Dr. Allen and her team found that those with favorable factors survived 3.9 years longer; lived 4.5 years longer before developing a chronic illness; spent 22 percent fewer of their senior years with a chronic illness; and incurred almost $18,000 less in Medicare costs.

Of the 18,714 participants who reached age 65 without a heart attack, stroke or congestive heart failure, those with all favorable risk factors lived nearly seven years longer without heart disease and 46.5 percent fewer of their senior years with heart disease.

“We are very excited about this study, it helps us really understand later life as a whole, instead of a single risk factor, which is important because that is how people live their lives,” Dr. Allen said. “Our next step is to look at how changes in risk factors over time. For example, if you started to lose weight, can you reduce the accumulation of disease later in life?”

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