While a persons risk of heart disease may be low in the next five or ten years, the lifetime risk for getting it could still be very high, according to a new study published in the most recent issue of New England Journal of Medicine.

“Early life decisions we make can have a significant impact on the rest of our lives, and heart healthy choices are no different. The risk factors we develop in younger and middle ages are going to determine our heart disease risk across our lifetime,” said lead study author Dr. Jarett Berry, assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in a statement.

Through past studies researchers have long determined that risk factors are early signs of heart disease across gender, race, and time, but the idea of lifetime risk is of significance, and could eventually alter how heart disease and risk prevention is treated.

“If we want to reduce cardiovascular disease, we need to prevent the development of risk factors in the first place,” Berry stated. “What determines your heart disease risk when you are 70 or 80 is what your risk factors are when you’re 40.

According to results of longitudinal studies over the past 50 years, researchers found that people with two or more major risk factors in middle-age had significantly higher lifetime risks for cardiovascular death, myrocardial infarction, and stroke in their lifetime.

Berry’s experiment consisted of 254,000 participants, of both genders, of black and white ethnicity. Ages of the subjects were 45,55,65, and 75 years. It was confirmed that those with multiple risk factors had much higher lifetime risks for heart disease, by ten times the rate of those without risk factors.

Researchers also learned that the drop in cardiovascular disease rates over the past several decades, is indicative of the prevalence of the risk factors, as opposed to effects from better treatment.

Investigators also confirmed that the long-term risk for heart disease within each risk factor group hasn’t shifted.

“Regardless of where you were born or when you were born, the effects of risk factors on lifetime risk for heart disease are about the same,” concluded Berry.