The art of keeping fit in old age is to start the process in middle age. This is apparently the key to slashing the risk of heart problems later in life so the experts tell us.
Staying slim, keeping blood pressure low and remaining clear of diabetes between the ages of 45 and 55 reduces the risk of heart failure by 86% for the rest of life, a study suggests.
Some 550,000 people in Britain suffer with heart failure, usually developing the condition after a heart attack. The debilitating illness, in which the heart struggles to pump blood around the body, often leaves patients bedbound and unable to walk far. They are usually breathless, even when resting.
Heart failure is already the leading cause of hospitalisation among over 65s in Britain – and experts predict the number of elderly people with the condition will triple by 2060.
But the study led by Northwestern University in Chicago reveals that the condition can be prevented with a change in lifestyle between the ages of 45 and 55. Lead researcher Dr John Wilkins said: ‘This study adds to the understanding of how individual aggregate risk factor levels, specifically in middle age, affect incidents of heart failure risk over the remaining lifespan.
‘These findings help reframe the heart failure prevention discussion by quantifying how the prevention of the development of these risk factors can lengthen healthy and overall survival and could vastly reduce the population burden of heart failure.’
For years doctors have been warning of the consequences of old age and an unhealthy lifestyle. But the researchers who tracked more than 40,000 people found that at the age of 45 only 53% of participants were free of all three risk factors – being overweight, high blood pressure and diabetes. At the age of 55 only 44% were still free of these warning signs.
The findings published in Heart Failure, part of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, reveals that those who were free of diabetes had a healthy body mass index and had normal blood pressure at both 45 and 55 and had a substantially lower risk of heart failure.
According to the results, men without any of the three risk factors lived an average of 10.6 years longer free of heart failure while women lived an average of 14.9 years longer without heart failure.
Doctor Christopher O’Connor, editor-in-chief of the publication, said: ‘As the incidents of heart failure are increasing, it is important that we accelerate the research efforts on the prevention of heart failure.’
The author wrote: ‘This data underscores the importance of preventing the development of risk factors in midlife for decreasing the public health impact of heart failure.’
Many people suspect that if they do not live an active lifestyle by the time they reach middle age, it may be too late to make a difference. But previous research has found that taking up exercise in the forties, fifties or even sixties can make a big difference.
A daily study of 45,000 people aged 50-65 reported last month that those who spend half an hour cycling per week have a 16% reduced risk of heart failure. Separate research published last year found that walking for just twenty minutes a day in your fifties or sixties could add up to seven years to your life.
Professor Sanjay Sharma of St George’s Hospital in London said: ‘When people exercise regularly they may be able to retard the process of ageing. It is an anti-depressant, it improves cognitive function and there is now evidence that it may retard the onset of dementia.’
Dementia has today become the plague of modern living. Anything that can prevent it will be a godsend worth the biggest sacrifice conceivable.