Background: Non-smoking, having a normal weight and increased levels of physical activity are perhaps the three key factors for preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, the relative effects of these factors on healthy longevity have not been well described. We aimed to calculate and compare the effects of non-smoking, normal weight and physical activity in middle-aged populations on life expectancy with and without cardiovascular disease.
Methods: Using multi-state life tables and data from the Framingham Heart Study (n = 4634) we calculated the effects of three heart healthy behaviours among populations aged 50 years and over on life expectancy with and without cardiovascular disease. For the life table calculations, we used hazard ratios for 3 transitions (No CVD to CVD, no CVD to death, and CVD to death) by health behaviour category, and adjusted for age, sex, and potential confounders.
Results: High levels of physical activity, never smoking (men), and normal weight were each associated with 20-40% lower risks of developing CVD as compared to low physical activity, current smoking and obesity, respectively. Never smoking and high levels of physical activity reduced the risks of dying in those with and without a history of CVD, but normal weight did not. Never-smoking was associated with the largest gains in total life expectancy (4.3 years, men, 4.1 years, women) and CVD-free life expectancy (3.8 and 3.4 years, respectively). High levels of physical activity and normal weight were associated with lesser gains in total life expectancy (3.5 years, men and 3.4 years, women, and 1.3 years, men and 1.0 year women, respectively), and slightly lesser gains in CVD-free life expectancy (3.0 years, men and 3.1 years, women, and 3.1 years men and 2.9 years women, respectively). Normal weight was the only behaviour associated with a reduction in the number of years lived with CVD (1.8 years, men and 1.9 years, women).
Conclusions: Achieving high levels of physical activity, normal weight, and never smoking, are effective ways to prevent cardiovascular disease and to extend total life expectancy and the number of years lived free of CVD. Increasing the prevalence of normal weight could further reduce the time spent with CVD in the population.