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Heart-healthy habits may improve cardiovascular health, slow biological aging

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  • Researchers say that increasing your Life’s Essential 8 score can lower the risk of developing heart disease.
  • In a new study, they reported that people with a family history of cardiovascular disease decreased their risk by two times compared to those without a genetic risk factor.
  • They said that taking care of your cardiovascular health can also slow the biological aging process.

Adopting heart-healthy behaviors might reverse the aging process in cells, according to research Trusted Source AHA/ASA Journals Peer reviewed journal Go to source published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAMA).

In their study, researchers looked at 5,682 adults, more than half female with a mean age of 56, in a large multigenerational study working to identify risk factors for heart disease.

The scientists used a combination of interviews, physical exams, laboratory tests, and assessments utilizing the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 Trusted Source American Heart Association Highly respected national organization Go to source tool. This guideline incorporates information from dietary intake, physical activity, hours slept per night, smoking status, body mass index, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and blood pressure to determine a score that indicates cardiovascular health.

The scientists also estimated biological age based on DNA methylation and assessed a person’s genetic tendency toward accelerated biological age.

“Some people believe that because a family member, for example a parent, has heart disease, they are doomed,” said Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a cardiologist, and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California who was not involved in the study. “But this study showed the opposite. Taking care of yourself slows down the burden aging takes on your body. The study actually showed that people with a higher genetic risk who followed Life’s Essential 8 improved their cardiovascular health immensely more than those who did not have the genetic risk.”

“I think it is a very important point. You are not doomed to have a heart attack because of genetics,” Ni told Medical News Today. “You don’t have to give in to the ‘there is nothing I can do – it runs in my family.’ The study clearly showed there is a lot you can do and that following a healthy lifestyle not only reduces your risk of heart disease but can, to some degree, change your genes. The more you care for yourself, the more you slow the burden aging takes on your body.”

DNA methylation Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source regulates gene expression and is considered a potential biomarker for estimating biological aging, which is determined by genetic makeup, lifestyle factors, and stress. Biological aging is thought to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

“Cardiovascular risk factors affect DNA methylation, which affects the biological aging process,” Dr, Karishma Patwa, a cardiologist at Manhattan Cardiology in New York who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today. “The higher epigenetic age correlates to higher cardiovascular disease burden.”

Details from the healthy heart and biological aging study

The study participants were followed for 11 to 14 years and monitored for new-onset heart disease, cardiovascular death, or death from any cause.

The researchers’ findings included:

  • Each 13-point increase in the Life’s Essential 8 score reduced the risk of new-onset cardiovascular disease by 35%, cardiovascular disease by 36%, and death from any cause by 29%.
  • Participants with a higher risk of accelerated aging saw the most beneficial results with regards to DNA methylation.
  • Participants with a higher genetic risk of accelerated aging had an almost 40% association between their Life’s Essential 8 score and cardiovascular health, compared to 20% for all participants.

“This study found an association between Life’s Essential 8 and genetic changes in our DNA,” said Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in California who was not involved in the study.

“But even more important, it explains why lifestyle factors are so important and how they create change in our DNA. It adds to the decades of research and gives additional information for us to share with our patients,” Chen told Medical News Today.

There were some limitations to the study. They included:

  • The study used previously collected health data and could not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
  • Participants were mostly of white European ethnicity, so the results might not be generalized to other races and ethnicities.

Healthy heart lifestyle vs. medication

Experts say making lifestyle changes is important and is always the first step to controlling cardiovascular disease.

“This study didn’t care how someone improved their cardiovascular health,” Ni noted. “I believe that if someone can achieve improvement naturally – via lifestyle changes – it is probably better. However, the study didn’t look at the difference.”

Sometimes, however, lifestyle factors aren’t enough.

“Changing lifestyle factors is always where you start. They are the baseline,” Chen said. “However, when improvement is not forthcoming, medication might be necessary. But medicine doesn’t take the place of lifestyle factors – it adds to them. People should continue exercising and eating right while keeping up with medication.”

Cardiovascular disease warning signs

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality and disabilities across the globe, according to a report published in 2023.

Experts say early treatment for cardiovascular disease is important and can stop the progression of the disease before it becomes severe.

“This study suggests that maintaining good cardiovascular health may alter DNA methylation, a key process that may affect how cells age, to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease,”  Jiantao Ma, PhD, a senior study author and an assistant professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, told Medical News Today. “The most important takeaway for the public is that our study findings support that better heart-healthy behaviors (eat better; be more active; quit tobacco; and get healthy sleep) and managing heart disease risk factors (manage weight and maintain healthy cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels) are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, death from heart disease and stroke and death from any cause.”

Heart problems aren’t always obvious. People know that chest pain can be a sign of cardiovascular disease. But experts say there are other early warning signs people can look out for.

Pain, pressure, or tightness in the chest, especially when it is connected to physical exertion, is a sign of cardiovascular disease,” Ni said. “A racing heart, skipping a beat, fainting – or nearly fainting – can all be signs of heart problems. Other signs include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the legs.”

Listening to your body is important.

“Pay attention to your symptoms,” Chen said. “If they are limiting your lifestyle, talk to a medical professional. If you aren’t able to do what you used to do, you should seek medical attention.”

This article originally appeared on Medical News Today.

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