CHICAGO -- Here's a reality check for health-conscious aging people:Even among those in good shape, at least one in three will eventuallydevelop heart problems or have a stroke. The upside is that that willhappen about seven years later than for their less healthy peers.
Thefindings come in a U.S. analysis of five major studies involving nearly50,000 adults aged 45 and older who were followed for up to 50 years.
Thebest odds are in the healthiest adults - those who don't smoke, havediabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Still, among55-year-olds in that category, about a third can expect to develop heartor other cardiovascular problems as they age.
Dr. VincentBufalino, a Chicago-area cardiologist and spokesman for the AmericanHeart Association, said the study is "a wake-up call that this diseaseis very prevalent in the United States and even if you're doing a goodjob, you're not immune."
The researchers estimated risks olderpeople face for developing these ailments in their lifetime, or by their80s or 90s. They also estimated how many years they'll live free ofheart disease and related problems, depending on the most common riskfactors.
Pooling follow-up data from the five analyzed studies,the researchers found that the healthiest 45-year-olds lived up to 14years longer free of heart ailments than those with at least two riskfactors. The healthiest 55-year-olds lived up to about seven yearslonger than their less healthy peers.
The study was published online Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Associationand released in connection with the American Heart Associationconference meeting in Los Angeles. The National Heart, Lung and BloodInstitute paid for the research.
The authors estimated higherlifetime risks than previous studies, but their analysis involved abroader range of ailments, including heart failure and strokes.
Whileprevalence of heart disease and related deaths have declined across theU.S. in recent years, more than 82 million Americans - roughlyone-third - have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to theAmerican Heart Association.
Most people in the analysis had high blood pressure or at least one of the other risk factors.
Theresults shouldn't be discouraging, said lead author Dr. John Wilkins,an assistant professor of preventive medicine and cardiology atNorthwestern University's medical school in Chicago. Maintaining anoptimal lifestyle, by eating sensibly and staying active, is still thebest way to live a long, healthy life, he said.
Heart diseaseremains the nation's leading cause of death, and the study reinforcesthe idea that "cardiovascular disease is part of the aging process,"said Cleveland Clinic heart specialist Dr. David Frid, who was notinvolved in the research. Bodies wear out, "and ultimately, justexposure to living is going to cause people to develop some of theseunderlying problems," Frid said.