The rarity of optimal heart health

According to a new study, people who arrive at middle age without cardiovascular risks nearly make themselves bulletproof for the rest of their lives.

A non-smoking 45-year-old man with normal blood pressure and cholesterol, and no diabetes, has less than a 2 percent chance of having a heart attack or stroke for the rest of his life.

The researchers looked at studies that totaled more than a quarter of a million people. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of the participants had the aforementioned optimal cardiovascular profile.

The study was another piece of evidence of how elusive good health habits are in the U.S.

Four behaviors determine most chronic disease and premature death – cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, excess weight and binge drinking of alcohol. If people made the right decisions about those four, health-care costs would recede as a public-policy ticking time bomb and Americans’ quality of life would soar.

Do not smoke. Eat at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Drink moderately at most. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Sounds easy enough. But only 3 percent of Americans do all four.

Those with the American Heart Association ideal cardiovascular profile are even rarer. According to University of Pittsburgh researchers, there are seven factors: body mass index of less than 25; untreated cholesterol under 200; blood pressure below 120/80; fasting blood sugar level below 100; exceeds the government-recommended physical activity guidelines, and follows a heart-healthy diet. Of 1,933 people between the ages of 45 and 75, only one met all seven conditions. Less than 10 percent met five or more of the criteria.