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The Healthiest Things Every 45-Year-Old Should Do

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

For heart health, a little prevention can translate into a healthier lifespan

Dodging just three potentially preventable conditions may add many healthy years to your life. In a new study, people who avoided hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and obesity in middle age had a risk for heart failure up to 86% lower than those who had all three.

The authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure, looked at years of data from Americans enrolled in four studies. They found that at ages 45 and 55, people who didn’t have those three conditions had a considerably lower risk for heart failure, regardless of their sex or race. Lacking these risk factors was linked to heart failure risk 73%-86% lower, compared to those who had all three conditions.

That may translate into longer lifespans for middle-aged adults. Forty-five-year-old men who didn’t have any of those three risk factors lived about 11 years longer free of heart failure than those who had all three. Women who didn’t have the risk factors fared even better, living about 15 years longer without heart failure. Similar trends were found for 55-year-olds.

The study authors weren’t surprised that avoiding these risk factors was linked to less heart failure, but “the magnitude of the associations observed are particularly impressive,” they write.

The new research underscores how important prevention is for heart health. All three of these conditions are potentially preventable by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight through a balanced diet and adequate exercise. “It’s a lot easier to prevent heart failure than it is to cure it once it’s there, but it takes forethought,” says James O’Keefe, chief of preventive cardiology at Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City (who was not involved with the study). “The key is keeping your weight down through exercise, diet and all those sorts of things that people don’t like to think about.”

Living without diabetes seemed to have a particularly strong impact. That’s likely because type-2 diabetes has detrimental effects on the heart: causing the muscle to stiffen and thicken, while making the body retain fluid, water and salt more, O’Keefe says. But though all three are independent risk factors, they’re related. “The bottom line is it’s very preventable,” O’Keefe says. “Diet and lifestyle are really important.”

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