Life expectancy has increased and adults are experiencing fewer cardiovascular problems, according to a large, long-term study that has tracked health outcomes since 1948.

Researchers analyzed data from the ongoing Framingham Heart Study. They found that women had the greatest gains in life expectancy — at nearly 12 years, and that men gained about 10 years throughout three recent time periods studied: 1960 to 1979, 1980 to 1999 and 2000 to 2018.

Lifetime risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, meanwhile, fell from 52% to 30% in men between the 1960-to-1979 and 2000-to-2018 periods, and by about 10 percentage points — to 26% — in women, investigators reported. 

“We are postponing the onset of heart attacks and strokes by as much as a decade,” said lead author Vasan Ramachandran, M.D., of Boston University, in a statement. “We’re increasing the period of living with good health.”

Better healthcare access, preventive measures, smoking cessation and improvements in the treatment of high blood pressure and cholesterol may be responsible for reducing the likelihood of developing heart attack or stroke, added Ramachandran, who is chief of preventive medicine and epidemiology at BU’s School of Medicine and School of Public Health.

The Framingham study involves a primarily white cohort, the authors noted.

“The residual burden of [atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease] underscores the importance of continued and effective primary prevention efforts with better screening for risk factors and their effective treatment,” they concluded.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

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