KEEPING a healthy heart in middle age can give you at least four extra years alive, scientists claim.
And those with good heart health spent 22 per cent fewer later years ill and survived four and a half longer before developing any chronic illness.
According to the study, good cardiovascular health in middle age staves off many types of disease that could eventually become fatal.
It is the first to analyse the impact of cardiovascular health in middle age on the duration of illness later in life.
Researchers examined data from the Chicago Health Association study, which did initial health assessments in the late 1960s/early 1970s and has followed participants ever since.
Dr Norrina Allen, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said: ‘Good cardiovascular health in middle age delays the onset of many types of disease so that people live longer and spend a much smaller proportion of their lives with chronic illness.’
Researchers determined how many participants had favourable factors: non-smokers, free of diabetes and normal weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, versus those with elevated risk factors or high risk factors.
Comparing those who had two or more high-risk factors in middle age among the 17,939 participants who reached age 65 without a chronic illness, researchers found that those with all favourable factors lived almost four years longer on average.
They also survived four-and-a-half years longer before developing a chronic illness and spent 22 per cent fewer of their senior years ill, according to the research published in the journal Circulation.
Dr Allen added: ‘Health professionals need to let young adults know that maintaining or adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle makes it more likely that you’ll live longer and still be healthy enough to do the things you love to do when you’re older.’
Looking solely at heart disease in 18,714 participants who reached age 65 without having a heart attack, stroke or congestive heart failure, those with all favourable risk factors lived seven years longer and spent almost 50 per cent fewer of their senior years with heart disease.
Dr Allen added: ‘We need to think about cardiovascular health at all stages of life.
‘The small proportion of participants with favourable levels in their 40s is a call for all of us to maintain or adopt healthy lifestyles earlier in life.
‘But risk factors and their effects accumulate over time, so even if you have risks it’s never too late to reduce their impact on your later health by exercising, eating right, and treating your high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.’