An 11-year study of 20,721 Swedish men aged 45 to 79 may look like heard-it-before news. It tells us that a healthy lifestyle reduces heart attack risk. “What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to five healthy behaviors,” states Dr. Agneta Akesson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and lead author of the study.
Reducing heart attack risk by 86%
The most astonishing and hopeful conclusion of the study,1 published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was that healthy men who followed the five healthy lifestyle guidelines reduced their risk of heart attack by 86% compared to men who followed none of the guidelines.
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What can I do to prevent a heart attack?
The men who achieved these dramatic benefits in heart health practiced the following five behaviors:
- They didn’t smoke.
- They walked or cycled at moderate intensity 40 minutes or more daily, and did vigorous intensity exercise at least 1 hour per week.
- They kept belly fat below a 38″ waist.
- They consumed alcohol moderately (1 to 2 glasses a day).
- They ate a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains, and fish, which is very similar to the Pritikin Eating Plan.
Preventing 4 out of 5 first heart attacks in men
Based on their findings, the researchers predicted that all five healthy behaviors could prevent four out of five first heart attacks in men.
Even those men who practiced only some of the five lifestyle factors reduced their risk for heart attacks. With each added factor practiced, the risk was reduced further. Those who just avoided smoking reduced their risk by 36%. Those who ate a healthy diet and drank moderately had a 35% lower risk.
Hypertension, high cholesterol
While this study focuses on the benefits of lifestyle choices for healthy men, the researchers found that men who had hypertension and high cholesterol levels also reduced their heart attack risk as they increased the number of healthy behaviors.
Similar benefits have been found for women. For example, Harvard’s large Nurse’s Health Study2 reported that women with a healthy weight who exercised regularly, did not smoke, ate a healthy diet, and had an alcoholic drink every other day were 83% less likely to suffer a heart attack or die of heart disease over a 14-year period compared to all the other women in the study.
A rallying cry to physicians nationwide
In an editorial3 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology accompanying the study from Sweden, Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, of Tufts University stressed both the social and individual importance of the study’s findings, calling on the medical community “to prioritize these most basic and fundamental behaviors.”
“Time For Implementation”
Titling his editorial “The Promise of Lifestyle For Cardiovascular Health: Time For Implementation,” Dr. Mozaffarian called upon physicians, health administrators, and insurance providers to design ways to incorporate and measure dietary quality, physical activity, smoking, and waist circumference into “every aspect of the health system.”
“Patients should enter their doctor’s office and not simply ask ‘How are my blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels?’ but also ask ‘How are my dietary habits, physical activity level, smoking, and waist measurement?'”
What can I do to prevent a heart attack?
For starters: Don’t follow the crowd. In the United States heart disease is the number one killer, but how many people are actually cutting back on burgers and eating more fruits and vegetables?
With this study, it becomes clear what a big difference lifestyle changes like eating well and exercising daily can make in reducing both the physical and financial burdens of heart disease. Research from the American Heart Association has found that coronary heart disease costs the U.S. $108.9 billion each year.4 Slashing heart attack rates could, without question, slash health care costs.
With this study, too, it becomes ever more clear that if you are following a Pritikin Lifestyle, you are doing the right thing.