Throughout my career as a professional health care provider I have often been asked if the damage caused from personal neglect of one’s health can be reversed.
My answer depends upon the circumstances surrounding each individual case. However, according to what the research and my experience has indicated, some people can indeed reverse some or all of the damage done by poor health choices they made in the past.
I have seen smokers, people who were overweight and obese, and others who battled through addictions and chronic disease turn their health and lives around by taking action to inflict the type of change required to overcome their unique circumstances.
According to some new research conducted by Dr. Bonnie Spring from Northwestern University in Chicago, those with poor health caused by poor health choices have been given renewed hope that their poor health can be circumvented by the addition of better health choices.
Dr. Spring’s research team analyzed the data from approximately 3,538 participants, aged 18–30 years old, who enrolled in the CARDIA study, which assessed the impact certain lifestyle factors—normal body weight, a healthy diet, reduced alcohol intake, increased levels of physical activity, and not smoking—have on the development of cardiovascular disease over a 20-year follow-up period. They gave each participant a score based on the above five healthy lifestyle factors; scores ranged from -5 to +5 depending on how many factors they had. Each participant was evaluated at the beginning of the trial and again 20 years later.
What the researchers discovered is that the people who had the highest healthy lifestyle scores after 20 years had a decreased chance of developing damage to their arteries in their necks and hearts as measured by the degree of calcium buildup and thickness of the artery wall. Each sequential increase in a participant’s healthy lifestyle factors score over time was associated with a 15% reduction in their risk of developing atherosclerotic changes in their arteries. On the other hand, each single decrease in their healthy lifestyle factors score was associated with a 17% increased risk of developing atherosclerotic disease.
The study results conclusively indicated that after 20 years, at least 25% of the participants had made at least one healthy lifestyle change. The subjects who changed their lifestyle the most by adopting healthier lifestyle changes had significantly reduced any evidence of damage to their coronary arteries. In contrast, those subjects who developed poor lifestyle habits, and thus had fewer health lifestyle changes, experienced obvious pathological changes to their coronary and carotid arteries, indicating atherosclerosis.
What does this mean to you?
The research is important because it indicates that there is a direct relationship between a healthy lifestyle and the development of serious disease risk. It also quite clearly indicates that younger adults who decide to change their lifestyle for the better can limit the damage caused to their cardiovascular system over time so that when they are older adults, their risk profiles will be greatly improved.
If you are living an unhealthy lifestyle, this research study is basically saying to you that if you make some meaningful changes and see them through, your life and health can dramatically change.
This is great news indeed!
Sources for Today’s Article:
Haak, E., “Good Heart Health News For A Change: You Can Undo Past Damage,” Prevention web site, July 2014; http://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/study-finds-health-habits-adulthood-undo-coronary-artery-damage.
Spring, B., et al., “Healthy Lifestyle Change and Subclinical Atherosclerosis in Young Adults: Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study,” Circulation April 28, 2014; doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.005445.