CHICAGO (AP) — Here’s a reality check for health-conscious baby boomers: Even among those in good shape, at least 1 in 3 will eventually develop heart problems or have a stroke.
The upside is that that will happen about seven years later than for their less healthy peers.
The findings come in an analysis of five major studies involving nearly 50,000 adults aged 45 and older who were followed for up to 50 years.
The best odds are in the healthiest adults — those who don’t smoke, have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Still, among 55-year-olds in that category, about a third can expect to develop heart or other cardiovascular problems as they age.
Dr. Vincent Bufalino, a Chicago area cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association, said the study is "a wake-up call that this disease is very prevalent in the United States and even if you’re doing a good job, you’re not immune."
The researchers estimated risks older people face for developing these ailments in their lifetime, or by their 80s or 90s. They also estimated how many years they’ll live free of heart disease and related problems, depending on the most common risk factors.
Pooling follow-up data from the five analyzed studies, the researchers found that the healthiest 45-year-olds lived up to 14 years longer free of heart ailments than those with at least two risk factors. The healthiest 55-year-olds lived up to about seven years longer than their less healthy peers.
The study was published online Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and released in connection with the American Heart Association conference meeting in Los Angeles. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute paid for the research.
The authors estimated higher lifetime risks than previous studies, but their analysis involved a broader range of ailments, including heart failure and strokes.
While prevalence of heart disease and related deaths have declined nationwide in recent years, more than 82 million Americans — roughly one-third — have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Most people in the analysis had high blood pressure or at least one of the other risk factors.
The results shouldn’t be discouraging, said lead author Dr. John Wilkins, an assistant professor of preventive medicine and cardiology at Northwestern University’s medical school in Chicago. Maintaining an optimal lifestyle, by eating sensibly and staying active, is still the best way to live a long, healthy life, he said.
Heart disease remains the nation’s leading cause of death, and the study reinforces the idea that "cardiovascular disease is part of the aging process," said Cleveland Clinic heart specialist Dr. David Frid, who was not involved in the research. Bodies wear out, "and ultimately, just exposure to living is going to cause people to develop some of these underlying problems," Frid said.
Online: JAMA and American Heart Association.