A HEALTHY heart can add almost a decade to your life, new research has shown.
Keeping your ticker in good nick increases your chances of avoiding four major killers, scientists in the US found.
The team from Tulane University in New Orleans found that people with good cardiovascular health had a substantially longer life expectancy, and lived up to ten years longer free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.
This was the case for both men and women, and across socioeconomic groups.
While life expectancy has shot up over the past few decades, people who are living longer aren't necessarily in the best health, the researchers noted.
"In fact, increasing numbers of middle-aged and elderly individuals live more years affected by various chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and dementia," they wrote.
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This was especially the case in people of lower socioeconomic status.
Boost your healthy life expectancy
The Tulane University research team analysed data from the UK Biobank study, which spanned between 2006 and 2010 and had 135 ,199 volunteers aged 40 to 69.
Their heart health was estimated using information on their diet, physical activity, tobacco use, sleep, body mass index,cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure.
Based on this, the researchers divided the volunteers into three groups, those with low, moderate and high cardiovascular health.
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They found that 50-year-old men with the best cardiovascular health were likely to live 6.9 years longer free from the four major diseases compared to those with a low score.
Those with a moderate score – which made up the largest proportion of men involved in the study – were found to live four years longer disease-free, compared with those who had a low cardiovascular health score.
Women the same age with a high score can expect to live almost a decade (9.4 years) longer free from cancer, dementia, heart disease or diabetes, compared to those with a low score.
Those with a moderate score could expect to have 6.3 additional years free of disease compared to those with the poorest heart health, according to the study.
"In conclusion, this study indicates that high cardiovascular health is strongly associated with longer life expectancy, especially life expectancy free of major chronic diseases is both men and women," the researchers wrote.
"These findings support the improvement in population health by promoting high CVH levels, which may also narrow health disparities associated with socioeconomic status."
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at BHF, said: "This study shows how crucial good cardiovascular health in middle age is in determining our healthy life expectancy in later life.
"We know that health inequality during early and middle life is a big driver of a shorter healthy life, and this study shows that this is largely because of its impact on cardiovascular health.
"This study shows the vital importance of optimising cardiovascular health in our forties and fifties, especially amongst those who are socially disadvantaged."
More than 4.9 million people in the UK have diabetes, according Diabetes UK. The charity estimated that 13.6 million people are now at increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
As for CVD, the British Heart Foundation estimates 7.6 million Brits live with the condition – one of the leading causes of death in the UK.
An ageing and growing population as well as improved survival rates from heart and circulatory events could see these numbers rise still further, the charity wrote.
A 2019 report suggested that there are currently around 900,000 people with dementia in the UK, Alzheimer's Society said.
This is projected to rise to 1 million by 2025 and 1.6 million by 2040.
Cancer Research UK estimated there are around 375,000 new cancer cases in the UK every year, with more than a third of these being diagnosed in people 75 and over.
How can you keep your heart healthy?
There are a number of ways you can boost your heart health.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
The NHS recommends a low-fat, high-fibre diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (5 portions a day) and whole grains.
It also recommends you limit the amount of salt you eat and avoid foods with saturated fats.
These include fatty cuts of meat, butter, lard, cream, hard cheese, cakes and biscuits.
Do, however, go for foods with unsaturated fats, such a oily fish, avocados and nuts and seeds.
Age UK recommends snacking on nuts, as they can reduce inflammation in the arteries and protect the heart
You also prepared food more healthily by avoiding frying or cooking with fat.
The British Heart Foundation has some more pointers on eating to improve your heart health.
2. Keep to a healthy weight
The best way to do that is to combine a healthy diet with regular exercise.
Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure and regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient and lower your cholesterol level, the NHS says.
Any aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming and dancing, will make your heart work harder and keep it healthy, it added.
You can find out your ideal healthy weight by speaking to a GP or nurse, or by calculating your body mass index (BMI).
3. No smoking
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in this country.
It poses a risk to your heart health so quitting is a great step towards improving it.
4. Less alcohol
Binge drinking can increase your risk of a heart attack so its best to avoid it.
When drinking, it's recommended you don't exceed maximum limits.
No more than 14 units a week are recommended for men and women and it's best to spread your drinking over three days if you think you'll reach that amount, according to NHS guidance.
5. Keep blood pressure and diabetes under control
You can manage your blood pressure through a healthy diet, regular exercise and medicine.
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Type 1 diabetes can be managed with insulin, while type 2 diabetes is typically managed through diet and exercise, as well as controlling your weight and blood pressure.
The study was published on JAMA Network.
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