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Cardiovascular disease is a broad class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels, including stroke, hypertension, thrombosis, heart failure, and atherosclerosis. As much as 90 percent of cardiovascular disease may be attributable to lifestyle factors and, therefore, preventable. A recent study found that having better cardiovascular health during one’s midlife years may reduce risk of premature death later in life.

The American Heart Association has developed a scoring system that describes a person’s cardiovascular health based on measures of various lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking, diet, and physical activity, and known cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure, body mass index, and blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Having a higher cardiovascular health score is associated with reduced markers of disease, longer telomeres, and better vascular function and, consequently, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and premature death.

The prospective cohort study, which spanned a 16-year period, drew on data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring investigation and involved 1,445 men and women whose average age was 60 years. The authors of the study found that for every five-year period that a person had intermediate or ideal cardiovascular health, they had a 33 percent lower risk for high blood pressure, 27 percent lower risk for diabetes or cardiovascular disease, 25 percent lower risk for diabetes, and 14 percent lower risk for premature death, compared to people who were in poor cardiovascular health. These findings held true regardless of age or sex.

Sauna use is a lifestyle behavior that has been shown to improve cardiovascular health. A large study of health outcomes in more than 2,300 middle-aged men from eastern Finland identified strong, dose-dependent links between sauna use and reduced cardiovascular-related death and disease. Compared to men who used the sauna once weekly, men who used the sauna four to seven times per week were 50 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular-related causes. Watch this clip in which Drs. Rhonda Patrick and Jari Laukkanen discuss these findings.

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