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Four Lifestyle Changes Protect the Heart, Reduce Risk of Death

Study shows benefits of healthy diet, exercise, maintaining normal weight, and not smoking (June 3)

A new study led by Johns Hopkins researchers has found a significant link between lifestyle factors and heart health, adding even more evidence in support of regular exercise, eating a Mediterranean-style diet, keeping a normal weight, and, most important, not smoking.

The researchers found that adopting those four lifestyle behaviors protected against coronary heart disease as well as the early buildup of calcium deposits in heart arteries, and reduced the chance of death from all causes by 80% over an 8-year period.

The new findings were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

More than 6,200 men and women, aged 44 to 84 years, from Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Chinese backgrounds were followed for an average period of 7.6 years.

Upon enrollment, all of the participants underwent coronary calcium screening using computed tomography (CT) scans to see whether there were early signs of calcium deposits in their heart arteries that are known to contribute to the risk of heart attack. As the study progressed, the researchers also assessed whether the participants had experienced a heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, chest pain, or angioplasty or had died because of coronary heart disease or other causes.

The investigators developed a lifestyle score for each of the participants, ranging from 0 (least healthy) to 4 (healthiest), based on their diet, body mass index (BMI), amount of regular moderate-intensity physical activity, and smoking status. Only 129 participants (2%) satisfied all four healthy lifestyle criteria.

“Of all the lifestyle factors, we found that smoking avoidance played the largest role in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and mortality,” said senior author Roger Blumenthal, MD. “In fact, smokers who adopted two or more of the healthy behaviors still had lower survival rates after 7.6 years than did nonsmokers who were sedentary and obese.”

The researchers emphasize that their study shows the importance of healthy lifestyle habits not just for reducing the risk of heart disease, but also for preventing mortality from all causes.

Source: Johns Hopkins; June 3, 2013.

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