Fifty is a decade or two away. Why worry about managing your cholesterol now? Because, say scientists at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in North Carolina, the longer you live with high cholesterol—even slightly higher than normal levels—the greater your risk of developing heart disease.
Using health data from the long-term Framingham Heart Study, researchers were able to determine that if you are between the ages of 35 and 55, every decade spent with borderline high cholesterol increases your heart disease risk by up to 40 percent.
Specifically, one to 10 years of elevated cholesterol levels was associated with an 8.1 percent risk, while 11 to 20 years of exposure boosted the risk to 16.5 percent. To put that in perspective, for those individuals who did not show signs of high cholesterol at the beginning of the study, their future risk of heart disease was only 4.4 percent—meaning long-term high cholesterol can nearly quadruple your chances of heart disease.
The study results, published in the journal Circulation, are important because they point out that how long a person has high cholesterol is directly related to his or her risk of developing heart disease—highlighting the need for middle-aged adults to pay close attention to their cardiovascular health. Study author Dr. Ann Marie Navar-Boggan recommends adults in their 30s should consider getting screened at least once for high cholesterol. In addition, she believes a healthy diet and lifestyle should be a priority early on.