Gaining a few extra pounds in your 40s and 50s can increase your chances of dying early by almost a third compared to those who stay slim in middle age, research shows.
People with marginally elevated blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugars who are carrying a little excess weight are up to 30 per cent more likely to die younger.
Experts said these ‘slightly unhealthy traits’ put people at higher risk of a heart attack or stroke over the next 30 years.
Worryingly, most people show no symptoms and ‘feel generally well’ – leaving them unaware of the potential ticking timebomb.
Researchers wanted to test whether asymptomatic people with diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – known as metabolic syndrome – in midlife were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
People with marginally elevated blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugars who are carrying a little excess weight are up to 30 per cent more likely to die younger (Stock Image)
They studied around 34,000 people in their 40s and 50s who attended a cardiovascular screening programme in Sweden between 1990 to 1999.
Measurements were taken of their height, weight, blood pressure, total cholesterol, blood glucose, and waist and hip circumference.
Participants also completed a questionnaire about lifestyle habits, whether they had a previous history of cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as socioeconomic factors such as education.
They were judged to have metabolic syndrome if they had three or more of the following: a waist circumference of 102cm for men or 88cm for women, total cholesterol of 6.1 mmol/l or above, 130 mmHg or higher systolic blood pressure and/or 85 mm Hg or higher diastolic blood pressure and a fasting plasma glucose of 5.6 mmol/l or higher.
Some 5,084 (15 per cent) met the criteria for metabolic syndrome and were then compared against a healthy control group of 10,168 people.
Of those who took part in the study, 5,084 (15 per cent) met the criteria for metabolic syndrome and were then compared against a healthy control group of 10,168 people (Stock Image)
After adjusting for factors such as physical inactivity, BMI and their living situation, researchers found those with the condition were far more likely to suffer an earlier cardiac event within three decades.
More than a quarter of those with metabolic syndrome – 1,317 (26%) – died compared to a fifth – 1,904 (19%) of their healthier peers – making them 30 per cent more likely to die in that time.
They were also 35 per cent more likely to have non-fatal heart attacks and strokes with 1,645 (32%) compared to 2,321 (22%) in the control group.
The average time to the first nonfatal heart attack or stroke was 16.8 years in the metabolic syndrome group and 19.1 years in the control group – a 2.3 year difference, according to the findings presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam.
Dr Lena Lönnberg of Västmanland County Hospital, Sweden, said: ‘Many people in their 40s and 50s have a bit of fat around the middle and marginally elevated blood pressure, cholesterol or glucose but feel generally well, are unaware of the risks and do not seek medical advice.
‘As a general rule of thumb, even if you feel well, check your blood pressure every year, avoid smoking, keep an eye on your waist circumference and last, but definitely not least, be physically active every day.’
After adjusting for factors such as physical inactivity, BMI and their living situation, researchers found those with metabolic syndrome were far more likely to suffer an earlier cardiac event within three decades (Stock Image)
An estimated one in four UK adults has metabolic syndrome, with rising obesity levels one of the main drivers.
On their own diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity can damage the blood vessels, with experts warning having three conditions together can be particularly dangerous.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said it reinforced the importance of health monitoring early in adult life.
‘Even if you feel fine, small increases in your blood pressure, waist measurement, cholesterol and blood sugar can have a substantial impact on your future risk of heart attacks and strokes.
‘The important message is that it is possible to reduce your risk through simple measures. Eating well balanced meals, regular physical activity, and not smoking can all help to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and your control weight. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your GP can also advise on medication that can help to reduce your risk.’