Even after age 60, people can significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes by adopting healthier habits, a new study from the UK shows.
“The present findings emphasise the benefits of lifestyle modification, including losing weight, increasing physical activity, stopping smoking, and avoiding a high-carbohydrate diet, in reducing the risk of the metabolic syndrome in older men,” reported Dr S Goya Wannamethee of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London and colleagues.
People with the metabolic syndrome have a constellation of risk factors including high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, impaired blood glucose metabolism, and high cholesterol.
The syndrome, which is more common among older people, increases the likelihood that a person will go on to develop heart disease and diabetes.
To better understand how lifestyle changes might affect metabolic syndrome risk in older people, Wannamethee and colleagues looked at 3,051 men aged 60 to 79 participating in a longterm study of heart disease. All were free of diabetes and heart disease, but about one in four had the metabolic syndrome.
Among the team’s findings: the higher a man weighed, the greater his risk of metabolic syndrome.
Eating a high-carbohydrate diet and smoking cigarettes also increased the risk of the syndrome, but the risk for smokers who had quit at least 15 years previously was the same as it was for people who had never smoked.
The researchers also found that a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet increased metabolic syndrome risk, largely due to reductions in levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and increases in harmful triglyceride levels.
While men who reported being active throughout the study period were at the lowest risk of metabolic syndrome, with a 27 per cent lower risk than men who were sedentary, men who became active during the previous three years reduced their risk by 24 per cent.
Among those who lost weight during the past 2 to 4 years, 12.4 per cent had the metabolic syndrome, compared to 23.5 per cent of those whose weight did not change and 32.2 per cent of those who gained weight.
Even among men who were overweight or obese, those who had lost weight were at lower risk of the syndrome than those who hadn’t.
The researchers conclude that lifestyle changes made later in life have “considerable potential” for preventing the metabolic syndrome.