Background: A low cardiovascular disease risk profile (untreated cholesterol <200 mg/dL, untreated blood pressure <120/<80 mm Hg, never smoking, and no history of diabetes mellitus or myocardial infarction) in middle age is associated with markedly better health outcomes in older age, but few middle-aged adults have this low risk profile. We examined whether adopting a healthy lifestyle throughout young adulthood is associated with the presence of the low cardiovascular disease risk profile in middle age.
Methods and results: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in (Young) Adults (CARDIA) study sample consisted of 3154 black and white participants 18 to 30 years of age at year 0 (1985-1986) who attended the year 0, 7, and 20 examinations. Healthy lifestyle factors defined at years 0, 7, and 20 included average body mass index <25 kg/m(2), no or moderate alcohol intake, higher healthy diet score, higher physical activity score, and never smoking. Mean age (25 years) and percentage of women (56%) were comparable across groups defined by number of healthy lifestyle factors. The age-, sex-, and race-adjusted prevalences of low cardiovascular disease risk profile at year 20 were 3.0%, 14.6%, 29.5%, 39.2%, and 60.7% for people with 0 or 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 healthy lifestyle factors, respectively (P for trend <0.0001). Similar graded relationships were observed for each sex-race group (all P for trend <0.0001).
Conclusions: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout young adulthood is strongly associated with a low cardiovascular disease risk profile in middle age. Public health and individual efforts are needed to improve the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyles in young adults.