How a Healthy Heart May Keep You Mobile

Cardiovascular health status may predict ability to function in older age

(RxWiki News) A heart-friendly lifestyle is one of your best bets for preventing strokes and heart attacks, and it may help many stay mobile and independent for longer as they age.

Heart health may determine how well patients can function as they grow older, regardless of whether they have heart disease, a new study found.

Mandip S. Dhamoon, MD, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and colleagues studied indicators of ideal heart health in more than 3,200 adults in Northern Manhattan. All patients were stroke-free and older than 40.

The American Heart Association (AHA) uses seven factors to assess heart health status: blood pressure, physical activity, cholesterol, diet, weight, smoking status and blood sugar levels. Those metrics can help doctors assess patients' risk of problems like heart attack or stroke.

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked. They can result in a loss of brain function. A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle is damaged or dies due to inadequate blood flow to the heart.

Dr. Dhamoon and team found that heart health indicators may also predict functional impairment as patients age. The research team assessed patients' ease with daily activities like feeding, bathing, grooming, toilet use and mobility.

Only 4 percent of patients had five to seven of the ideal measurements, these researchers found. Almost a quarter of them had zero to one, and most people fell somewhere in between.

Patients with higher numbers of heart health factors were able to function better five and 10 years after the initial assessment, Dr. Dhamoon and team found. Poor physical activity and blood sugar levels appeared to have a big impact on abilities 10 years later.

"Vascular functional impairment is an important outcome, and further research is needed to determine whether it may be improved by optimizing vascular health," Dr. Dhamoon and colleagues wrote. "Achieving the AHA 2020 goal will not only have favorable effects on stroke and [heart attack], but also likely reduce functional impairment."

The AHA set a goal to improve heart health of all Americans by 20 percent and reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke by the same amount by 2020.

"The metrics with the greatest potential for improvement are health behaviors, including diet quality, physical activity and body weight," according to the AHA 2020 Impact Goal statement. "However, each of the cardiovascular health metrics can be improved and deserves major focus, including smoking, which remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States."

This research was presented Feb. 12 at the International Stroke Conference 2015 in Nashville, TN. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

Dr. Dhamoon and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 12, 2015