What Happens To Your Early Death Risk After A Heart Disease Diagnosis

Heart issues often get written off as something to worry about when we're older. It's an understandable assumption, especially when you consider the fact that men are most likely to experience a first-time heart attack at the average age of 65, reports Harvard Health Publishing. For many of us, that's still a long way off, so why worry?

As it turns out, our lifestyle habits can set the stage for heart disease as early as young adulthood. In a 2006 study published in Cardiology in Review, researchers looked at cases of sudden cardiac death that occurred between 1977 and 2001 among young adults in military training. All recruits were between the ages of 17 and 35. Out of 31 deaths, 10 were attributed to coronary artery disease (CAD).

While we've seen rates of premature heart disease mortality drop significantly in the U.S. since the late '60s, as of 2017, it was still responsible for roughly 1 in 5 deaths among people ages 25 through 64, according to 2019 research published in Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine.

Factors that influence early death from heart disease

The increased risk of early death after a heart disease diagnosis is a multifaceted issue. In 2021, the American Heart Association (AHA) released research findings from a study published in the scientific journal Circulation that highlighted how adults who live in what the researchers termed "socially vulnerable" regions of the U.S. were more susceptible to premature death from heart disease. Socioeconomic status, race, disability, and housing conditions were a few of the various factors that the researchers incorporated into their definition of socially vulnerable.

In comparison to people living in less vulnerable regions, the researchers found that Americans residing in more vulnerable counties (the majority of which were in the southeast or southwest regions of the country) were over 80% more likely to die from heart disease before the age of 65. More specifically, the risk of early death due to cardiovascular disease was two to five times greater for people living in rural counties than for people dwelling in urban environments.

"Emerging studies suggest that conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play — called social determinants of health — contribute to higher risk of premature death for people living in socially vulnerable communities," study author Dr. Khurram Nasir told the AHA in a press release.

Tips for preventing the development of heart disease

It's never too early to practice healthy habits when it comes to preventing heart disease. Recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and limiting sodium, sugar, and alcohol intake. Foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol can raise cholesterol levels, potentially leading to heart disease down the line. Therefore, it's best to limit consumption of processed foods.

In addition to diet, exercise is also key. Getting regular physical activity can help keep our blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels within a healthy range, all of which can contribute to heart disease. It's recommended that adults get in 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity on a weekly basis. For children, the recommendation is 60 minutes of exercise daily. You'll also want to steer clear of smoking, which makes one more prone to cardiovascular disease.