Individuals who have an optimal cardiovascular disease (CVD)  factor profile at a younger age was associated with the lowest rate of functional disability in older age, according to recent data from the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry (CHA) study.

Thanh-Huyen T. Vu, MD, PhD, from the Department of Preventive Medicine and Department of Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, and colleagues assessed associations between baseline CVD risk profiles and functional disability measured 32 years later by activities of daily living. The findings were published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

The study sample included 3669 men and 2345 women over 65 years of age (mean age: 43 years). Researchers assessed low-risk status at baseline, defined as untreated systolic or diastolic blood pressure ≤120/≤80 mmHg, untreated serum total cholesterol <5.18 mmol/L, non-smokers, BMI <25 kg/m2, and no diabetes.

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They used the 2003 health survey to assess functional disability, categorized as any disability in activities of daily living, any disability in instrumental activities of daily living, and no disabilities.

“Our findings extend previous observations on the benefits of the low-risk profile early in life to include inverse associations with functional disabilities in older age,” the authors wrote. “Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that achievement of low-risk status in young adulthood/middle age that may be an important mechanism to reduce loss of independence and improve quality of life in older adults.”

After the 32-year follow-up period, 7% of individuals reported having limitations in performing any activity of daily living and 11% reported limitations in instrumental activities of daily living only. Researchers found that the prevalence of any limitation in activities of daily living was lowest among low-risk individuals, and increased in a graded fashion with higher risk factor groups (P for trend <.001).

The multivariate odds of having a disability in activities of daily living in low risk individuals was 58% lower compared with individuals with more than 2 high-risk factors. In addition, individuals with any moderate risk were 48% less likely to have a disability, and individuals with 1 high-risk factor were 37% less likely to have a disability compared with those with more than 2 high-risk factors.

“The study suggests that CVD and non-CVD-related health outcomes may share some common causes and be responsive to the same preventive measures,” the authors concluded. “This may encourage public health efforts to accomplish a progressive increase in the prevalence of low CVD risk profile, given that it is still low in the United States.”


Vu TH, Lloyd-Jones DM, Liu K, et al. Optimal levels of all major cardiovascular risk factors in younger age and functional disability in older age: the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry 32-year follow-up health survey. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2016; doi: 10.1161/circoutcomes.115.002519.