Simple Habits in Young Adulthood Have Lasting Effects on Heart Health

High blood pressure and cholesterol in young adulthood—when found together—appear to increase risk for coronary heart disease later in life.  At least, this is the suggestion that comes out of new research published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 

Examining the data from more than 36,000 adult participants, over a 17-year follow up, researchers found 4,570 incidents of coronary heart disease. They also found 5,119 heart failure events and 2,862 stroke events.  

Of course, these numbers are meaningless without context, so it is important to analyze their meaning.  In the study, the researchers found that both high blood pressure and high cholesterol in young adulthood have a certain, and strong, correlation with heart disease later in life.  Specifically, the research suggests that elevated low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol) as a young adult can lead to a 64 percent increased risk for heart disease several decades down the road.

Furthermore, the study warns that a higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure in young adulthood could lead to a 37 percent higher and 21 percent higher risk of heart failure, respectively.  Systolic blood pressure measures arterial pressure during a heart muscle contraction.  Diastolic blood pressure measures arterial pressure between beats, when the heart muscle is at rest. 

It should be noted, though, that high blood pressure and high cholesterol have not been independently associated with stroke in young adults.  The study suggests, instead diagnosing higher levels of either systolic or diastolic blood pressure later in life are quite reliable predictors of stroke.  

Columbia University associate professor Andrew Moran explains that the study suggests the importance of maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels in young adulthood.  This, he says, offers a “substantial lifetime” of health benefits. 

The lead study author also advises, “However, young adults are difficult to reach by way of traditional, clinical-based preventive programs. They are transitioning between pediatric and adult-centered models of care. They often lack health insurance or experience frequent gaps in insurance coverage.”

This, then, poses a new—very modern—concern: educating or, at the very least informing, young adults about the importance of maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure.  As with many other age-related chronic diseases, preventative measures that begin early in life significantly reduce risks. In this case, introducing statins (lipid-lowering drugs) as well as adopting healthy lifestyle habits (including diet and exercise) can have quite an impact.