A 50-year study of 250,000 participants has doctors rethinking cardiovascular risk factors like smoking, blood pressure, and diabetes.
If you thought you had your heart and stroke risk all figured out, a new study will have you reconsidering. Researchers have recalculated how risk factors, like weight and blood pressure, actually affect our risk of heart problems. The findings may make your heart sink just a bit, but, fortunately, many of the risk factors are largely within our control. So the study empowers us while providing a sobering look at what puts hearts at risk.
The study followed 250,000 black and white participants of both sexes over a landmark 50 years. Most studies of this kind look at white males only, so the fact that this one included women and other ethnic groups gives it a lot more explanatory power than those in the past.
Cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes status were measured when the participants were 45, 55, 65, and 75. The team tracked the likelihood of the participants experiencing a heart issue or stroke during their lifetimes.
The best risk factor profile was when blood pressure was 120 mmHg/80 mmHg or lower, when cholesterol was 180 mg/dl or less, and the person did not smoke or have diabetes. But just a tiny change in any of the risk factors raised one's risk considerably. For example, if all factors are ideal for a given person but cholesterol is between 180 and 199 (not high enough to be treated, but still higher than ideal), one's lifetime risk goes up.