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Strong Heart Key to Good Health in Old Age

from Reuters Health - SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Want to enjoy good health in your golden years? Take good care of your heart, according to the findings of a new study.

Researchers report that healthy elderly people who had low risk factors for cardiovascular disease continued to enjoy good health longer than people with more risk factors.

"Our study is a picture of what the future of older people could be like--the ideal golden years--if they keep heart disease risk factors in check," the study's lead author Dr. Anne B. Newman of the University of Pittsburgh said in a press release.

"Older healthy people can maintain better-than-average quality of life, with lower rates of physical and cognitive decline, when they refrain from smoking, lower their blood lipids, watch blood pressure and avoid obesity through diet and exercise," Newman added.

The study included nearly 3,000 men and women who were at least 65 years old. At the start of the study, all of the participants had aged "successfully," meaning that they maintained good mental and physical functioning and did not have cardiovascular disease, cancer or chronic lung disease.

Researchers followed the participants for eight years to see if they continued to age successfully.

Nearly half of the participants, 48 percent, were still aging successfully at the end of the study, Newmans team reports in the October 27th issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Not surprisingly, a person's age at the start of the study had an important influence on the odds of aging successfully. People 85 or older enjoyed only about one fourth the number of healthy years as did people who were 65 to 69 at the start of the study

But within each age group, the odds of aging successfully depended on other factors, including the presence of "subclinical" cardiovascular disease, which does not cause symptoms and can only be detected with diagnostic tests.

Compared with people with subclinical cardiovascular disease, people without any signs of heart disease continued to enjoy good health for an average of 5 to 6 years longer.

Several risk factors for heart disease, including diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and lack of exercise, were also related to the odds of aging successfully. This connection is important, according to the researchers, since these risk factors can be modified.

Noting that current efforts to reduce cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, fall short of goals, Newman and her colleagues conclude that "prevention of cardiovascular disease should be a major priority for the achievement of successful aging."

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