The claim: If your history is less than stellar in the health department, new research shows that you can undo past sins when it comes to your heart. Making healthy lifestyle changes as an adult can help control—and potentially reverse—the progression of coronary artery disease, according to a study inCirculation.
The research: Researchers from Northwestern University analyzed data on more than 5,000 participants between the ages of 38 and 50, assessing their heart health (specifically the calcification and thickening of their coronary arteries) at the beginning of the study and again 20 years later. At the 20-year mark, 25% of participants had made at least one healthy lifestyle change (including having a healthy weight, not smoking, being physically active, having low alcohol intake, and eating a healthy diet). More importantly, they found that these health conscious adults had reduced their odds of detectable coronary artery calcification and thickening. On a less positive note, researchers also found that 40% of people dropped good habits over the course of those 20 years and replaced them with unhealthy ones, resulting in measurable, negative effects on their hearts.
What it means: It's never too late to make a difference when it comes to the health of your heart—for better or for worse. "Even if you’ve lived a squeaky clean healthy lifestyle up until you get to adulthood, you’re not home free. You have to keep it up if you want to see benefit to your heart," says Bonnie Spring, PhD, lead study author and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
The bottom line: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your heart happy. If you're not sure where to begin, Spring suggests starting small. "Pick just a couple healthy habits you think you’re likely to be successful with," she says. "Then, you can make those changes and build up your confidence, which tends to motivate you to want to make even more changes." (These 5 simple tips to help your heart are a good place to start.)