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Heart-Healthy Actions Promote Longer, Disease-Free Life

Adults who follow a heart-healthy lifestyle are more likely to live longer and to be free of chronic health conditions, based on data from a pair of related studies from the United States and United Kingdom involving nearly 200,000 individuals.

The studies, presented at the Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health meeting in Boston, assessed the impact of cardiovascular health on life expectancy and freedom from chronic diseases. Cardiovascular health (CVH) was based on the Life’s Essential 8 (LE8) score, a composite of health metrics released by the American Heart Association in 2022. The LE8 was developed to guide research and assessment of cardiovascular health, and includes diet, physical activity, tobacco/nicotine exposure, sleep, body mass index, non-HDL cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure.

In one study, Xuan Wang, MD, a postdoctoral fellow and biostatistician in the department of epidemiology at Tulane University, New Orleans, and colleagues reviewed data from 136,599 adults in the United Kingdom Biobank who were free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia at baseline, and for whom complete LE8 data were available.

CVH was classified as poor, intermediate, and ideal, defined as LE8 scores of less than 50, 50 to 80, and 80 or higher, respectively.

The goal of the study was to examine the role of CVH based on LE8 scores on the percentage of life expectancy free of chronic diseases.

Men and women with ideal CVH averaged 5.2 years and 6.3 years more of total life expectancy at age 50 years, compared with those with poor CVH. Out of total life expectancy, the percentage of life expectancy free of chronic diseases was 75.9% and 83.4% for men and women, respectively, compared with 64.9% and 69.4%, respectively, for men and women with poor CVH.

The researchers also found that disparities in the percentage of disease-free years for both men and women were reduced in the high CVH groups.

The findings were limited by several factors including the use of only CVD, diabetes, cancer, and dementia in the definition of “disease-free life expectancy,” the researchers noted in a press release accompanying the study. Other limitations include the lack of data on e-cigarettes, and the homogeneous White study population. More research is needed in diverse populations who experience a stronger impact from negative social determinants of health, they said.

In a second study, Hao Ma, MD, and colleagues reviewed data from 23,003 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2018 with mortality linked to the National Death Index through Dec. 31, 2019. The goal of the second study was to examine the association between CVH based on LE8 scores and life expectancy.

Over a median follow-up of 7.8 years, deaths occurred in 772 men and 587 women, said Dr. Ma, a postdoctoral fellow and biostatistician in epidemiology at Tulane University and coauthor on Dr. Wang’s study.

The estimated life expectancies at age 50 years for men with poor, intermediate, and ideal cardiovascular health based on the LE8 were 25.5 years, 31.2 years, and 33.1 years, respectively.

For women, the corresponding life expectancies for women at age 50 with poor, intermediate, and ideal CVH were 29.5 years, 34.2 years, and 38.4 years, respectively.

Men and women had similar gains in life expectancy from adhering to a heart-healthy lifestyle as defined by the LE8 score that reduced their risk of death from cardiovascular disease (41.8% and 44.1%, respectively).

Associations of cardiovascular health and life expectancy were similar for non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Blacks, but not among people of Mexican heritage, and more research is needed in diverse populations, the researchers wrote.

The study was limited by several factors including potential changes in cardiovascular health during the follow-up period, and by the limited analysis of racial and ethnic groups to non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Black, and people of Mexican heritage because of small sample sizes for other racial/ethnic groups, the researchers noted in a press release accompanying the study.

The message for clinicians and their patients is that adherence to cardiovascular health as defined by the LE8 will help not only extend life, but enhance quality of life, Dr. Xang and Dr. Ma said in an interview. “If your overall CVH score is low, we might be able to focus on one element first and improve them one by one,” they said. Sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet are barriers to improving LE8 metrics that can be addressed, they added.

More research is needed to examine the effects of LE8 on high-risk patients, the researchers told this news organization. “No studies have yet focused on these patients with chronic diseases. We suspect that LE8 will play a role even in these high-risk groups,” they said. Further studies should include diverse populations and evaluations of the association between CVH change and health outcomes, they added.

“Overall, we see this 7.5-year difference [in life expectancy] going from poor to high cardiovascular health,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, of Northwestern University, Chicago, in a video accompanying the presentation of the study findings. The impact on life expectancy is yet another reason to motivate people to improve their cardiovascular health, said Dr. Lloyd-Jones, immediate past president of the American Heart Association and lead author on the writing group for Life’s Essential 8. “The earlier we do this, the better, and the greater the gains in life expectancy we’re likely to see in the U.S. population,” he said.

People maintaining high cardiovascular health into midlife are avoiding not only cardiovascular disease, but other chronic diseases of aging, Dr. Lloyd-Jones added. These conditions are delayed until much later in the lifespan, which allows people to enjoy better quality of life for more of their remaining years, he said.

The meeting was sponsored by the American Heart Association.

Both studies were supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health; the Fogarty International Center; and the Tulane Research Centers of Excellence Awards. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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