Lately, I’ve been hearing an awful lot about millennials, and how they’re the up-and-coming sector of our economy. So I did some research: I discovered that they’re nearly 80 million strong, and aged between 17 and 34 years. Far too young to be able to impact their heart health, right?
New data from the NIH’s ongoing Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study says maybe this group does need some heart education.
Publishing in the journal Circulation, CARDIA researchers looked at how changes to five healthy lifestyle factors — not being overweight/obese, not smoking, exercising, eating healthfully, and limiting alcohol intake — correlated with subclinical atherosclerosis for individuals that were tracked over a 20 year period.
What caught my attention was that all the 3,500 participants had joined the study between the ages of 18 and 30. This means that they were all 50 or under (with some under 40) at the study’s end, and had been the same age as millennials when they signed up.
Each healthy habit that a subject adopted during the study — for many, taking place right in the thick of their millennial years — reduced his or her likelihood to have sustained silent artery damage by 15 percent. On the flip side, each habit he or she dropped during that timeframe increased (by a similar amount) the likelihood that plaques would be found. (To give you a sense of the range, 25 percent of the group added a good habit, 34 percent stayed the same, and 40 percent had fewer healthy habits at the end.)
As physicians, we’re well attuned to the benefits of talking with our older patients about heart disease, but this study was to me a powerful reminder of how valuable this information is to young patients as well. Prevention begins young, and damage can be reversed then, too. Moving toward the end of the year, when so many patients are squeezing in their annual physical exam or taking advantage of a met deductible to see their providers, it’s inspiring and (yes) heartening food-for-thought.
Joel Kahn is a cardiologist. This article originally appeared on The Doctor Blog.
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