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[THE REJUVENATOR] Heart-healthy behaviors tied to younger biological age

The benefit of better heart health may be associated with the positive impact of heart- healthy lifestyle factors on biological aging (the age of the body and its cells), according to new research

"Our study findings tell us that no matter what your actual age is, better heart-healthy behaviors and managing heart disease risk factors were associated with a younger biological age and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, death from heart disease and stroke and death from any cause," said principal investigator Jiantao Ma, PhD, of Tufts University in Boston.

Researchers  analyzed whether a chemical modification process known as DNA methylation, which regulates gene expression in the body, may be one mechanism by which cardiovascular disease health factors affect cell aging and the risk of death. DNA methylation levels are the most promising biomarker to estimate biological age. To some degree, biological age is determined by one's genetic makeup, but it can also be influenced by lifestyle factors and stress.

The team examined health data for 5,682 adults (mean age, 56; 56%, women) who were enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study and followed for 11-14 years. All participants were assessed using the American Heart Association's “Life's Essential 8™ tool. The tool scores cardiovascular health between 0-100 (with 100 being the best) using a composite of four behavioral measures -- dietary intake, physical activity, hours slept per night and smoking status -- and four clinical measurements, including body mass index, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. They also underwent genetic testing.

The analysis found:

  • For each 13-point increase in an individual's Life's Essential 8™ score, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease for the first time was reduced by about 35%; death from cardiovascular disease was reduced by 36%; and death from any cause was reduced by 29%.
  • In participants with a genetic risk profile making them more likely to have an accelerated biological age, the Life's Essential 8™ score had a larger impact on outcomes: DNA methylation accounted for 39%, 39%, and 78% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular death and all-cause death, respectively.
  • Overall, about 20% of the association between Life's Essential 8™ scores and cardiovascular outcomes was estimated to be due to the impact of cardiovascular health factors on DNA methylation; in contrast, for participants at higher genetic risk, the association was almost 40%.

Although the observational study can’t prove cause and effect, “Our message is that everyone should be mindful of the eight heart disease and stroke health factors: eat healthy foods; be more active; quit tobacco; get healthy sleep; manage weight; and maintain healthy cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels," said coauthor Randi Foraker, PhD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

To download the full study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, click here

To learn more about the AHA's Life's Essential 8™, click here

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