New research has shown that older people with very low risk of heart disease also have very little frailty, raising the possibility that frailty could be prevented.
The largest study of its kind, led by the University of Exeter, found that even small reductions in heart disease risk factors helped to reduce frailty, as well as dementia, chronic pain, and other disabling conditions of old age.
Researchers said many perceive frailty to be an inevitable consequence of ageing – but their study found that severe frailty was 85% less likely in those with cardiovascular risk factors that were near ideal.
Their findings, which are published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, also showed that those with fewer heart disease risk factors were much less likely to have other conditions unrelated to the heart – including chronic pain, incontinence, falls, fractures, and dementia.
The team said it showed that what has previously been considered inevitable could in fact be prevented or delayed through earlier and better recognition and treatment of cardiac disease, meaning people can maintain function and independence in later life.
They said this could add life to their years as opposed to just years to their life.
Joint lead author of the study, Dr Joao Delgado, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “This study indicates that frailty and other age-related diseases could be prevented and significantly reduced in older adults.
“Getting our heart risk factors under control could lead to much healthier old ages.
“Unfortunately, the current obesity epidemic is moving the older population in the wrong direction, however our study underlines how even small reductions in risk are worthwhile.”
The study analysed data from more than 421,000 people aged 60 to 69 from both their GP medical records and in the UK Biobank research study. Participants were followed up over 10 years.
The team looked at six factors that could impact on heart health – uncontrolled high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, plus being overweight, doing little physical activity and being a current smoker.
Joint lead author, Dr Janice Atkins, also of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “A quarter (26%) of participants from UK Biobank, made of predominantly healthy volunteers, had near perfect cardiovascular risk factors compared to only 2.4% of the population via GP records.
“This highlights the huge potential for improvement in cardiovascular risk factors of the general population in the UK.”