First author Teemu J. Niiranen, a research fellow at Boston University School of Medicine, says that many people assume that "vascular aging" is a normal result of aging.
"As people get older, their arteries become stiffer and they develop high blood pressure. In fact, that's what happens to most people beyond age 70. But it doesn't have to happen," he explains.
He and his colleagues suggest that a healthful diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stiff arteries, both of which raise the risk for heart disease.
The team studied nearly 3,200 people aged 50 and older who took part in the Framingham Heart Study, and they assessed how many participants met the requirements for healthy vascular aging.
The researchers defined healthy vascular aging as having normal blood pressure and the arterial stiffness of people aged 30 and under, which was assessed using a method called pulse-wave velocity.
In fact, they found that participants who were meeting six out of the seven targets of the American Heart Association's (AHA) Life's Simple 7 program were 10 times more likely to meet the requirements for healthy vascular aging than participants who met none or only one of them.
In 2010, the AHA for the first time linked "ideal cardiovascular health" to seven simple diet and lifestyle changes that people can make to reduce their risk of stroke and heart disease.
The AHA called the seven changes "Life's Simple 7." The following list summarizes the seven steps and their associated ideal heart health targets as set out in the association's My Life Check toolkit:
- Manage blood pressure: keep it below 120/80 millimeters of mercury
- Control cholesterol: keep total cholesterol under 200 milligrams per deciliter
- Reduce blood sugar: maintain fasting blood glucose below 100 milligrams per deciliter
- Get active: every week, exercise at a moderate level for at least 150 minutes, or at an intense level for 75 minutes
- Eat better: adopt a heart-healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and skinless poultry and fish, and limits red meats, saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugar
- Manage weight: maintain a BMI of under 25 kilograms per square meter
- Stop smoking: ideal heart health target is "never smoked or having quit for more than 1 year"
The AHA launched the seven-step plan with two goals in mind: to improve the cardiovascular health of all people in the United States by 20 percent by 2020 and to reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.