The Athlete's Way

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Five Lifestyle Choices That Can Help You Live Longer

These 5 lifestyle choices can lead to a longer and healthier life.

A new study from Northwestern University found that it’s never too late to change lifestyle habits and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. The researchers identified 5 simple lifestyle choices that can prevent—and reverse—the progression of coronary artery disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

The good news from this study is that if you make lifestyle changes in your 30s or 40s and stick with them, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and add years to your life.

The bad news is that the researchers found that if someone develops more unhealthy habits as they get older, there can be a detrimental impact on his or her coronary arteries. Unfortunately, 40 percent of people in the study let go of good lifestyle habits and acquired more bad habits as they got older.

The study, “Healthy Lifestyle Change and Subclinical Atherosclerosis in Young Adults: Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study,” was published June 30 in the journal Circulation.

In a press release, Bonnie Spring, lead investigator of the study and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said, "It's not too late. You're not doomed if you've hit young adulthood and acquired some bad habits. You can still make a change and it will have a benefit for your heart."

For this paper, the researchers analyzed the link between lifestyle behaviors and coronary artery calcification and thickening among more than 5,000 participants in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Participants were assessed at baseline—when they were ages 18 to 30—and 20 years later.

Every increase in healthy lifestyle factors was associated with reduced odds of detectable coronary artery calcification and lower intima-media thickness. These are both markers of cardiovascular disease that can predict the potential risk of having a heart attack.

FIVE LIFESTYLE CHOICES THAT CAN HELP YOU LIVE LONGER

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight.

  2. Don't smoke. 

  3. Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week.

  4. Consume no more than one alcoholic drink a day for women, no more than two drinks for men.

  5. Eat a healthy diet with less processed foods that is: high in fiber, low in sodium, and includes lots of fruits and vegetables.

How many of these healthy lifestyle choices are a part of your life? You're not alone if you do not adhere to all 5 habits. At the beginning of the study, the researchers found that less than 10 percent of the CARDIA participants incorporated these five healthy lifestyle behaviors into their daily lives. 

Although the researchers don't list social connectivity as one of the top 5 keys to heart health, I always put close-knit human bonds at the top of the list for a lifespan of well-being. Social isolation and loneliness are bad for your coronary arteries and can shorten your life.

Additionally, stress reduction through things like mindfulness training, meditation, and yoga can improve heart health and add years to your life.

Conclusion: Start Making Healthier Lifestyle Choices Today and You Can Live Longer

Healthy lifestyle habits have a measurable impact on the well-being of your coronary arteries. With every decrease in healthy lifestyle factors there is an increase in coronary artery calcification, higher intima-media thickness, and higher risk of heart disease.

Hopefully, these findings will motivate you to stick with your current healthy daily habits and inspire you to make additional lifestyle changes that include all five heart healthy habits, as well as social connectivity and stress reduction.

It’s never too late to change your daily lifestyle choices. Making these healthy habits part of your daily routine will help you live longer and feel better. Start today!

If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts:

Follow me on Twitter @ckbergland for updates on The Athlete’s Way blog posts.

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.

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