Oct. 22, 2007 -- New research shows that women could cut their heart attack risk by up to 92% by doing these five things:
- Eat lots of veggies, fruit, fish, whole grains, and legumes.
- Drink a moderate amount of alcohol.
- Practice girth control (keep your waist trimmer than your hips).
- Walk or bike for 40 minutes daily and get another hour of weekly exercise.
- Don't smoke.
That may be familiar advice. But the new study makes the payoff for a heart-healthy lifestyle crystal clear.
"The five healthy diet and lifestyle factors are not impossible to follow," researcher Agneta Akesson, PhD, MPH, tells WebMD via email.
The study shows "how much YOU can -- based on your own motivation -- decrease your risk of [heart attack] by the different healthy lifestyle factors and in particular by the combined healthy diet and lifestyle," says Akesson.
"It is up to ourselves what we choose to follow," says Akesson, who works in the nutritional epidemiology division at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Preventing Women's Heart Attacks
Akesson's team studied more than 24,000 postmenopausal women in Sweden.
Akesson and colleagues followed the women for six years, on average. During that time, 51 women died of a heart attack and 257 women survived a heart attack.
Heart attacks were 92% less likely in women who had all five heart-smart habits compared with women with none of those habits.
But not many women were in that group. Only 5% of the women claimed to have all five heart-healthy habits.
If all the women had been in that group, more than three-quarters of the heart attacks might have been prevented, the study shows.
Step by Step
Every heart-healthy habit helped prevent heart attacks in the women in Akesson's study.
For instance, women who ate healthfully and drank modestly were 57% less likely to have a heart attack than other women.
That's not as high as the 92% drop in heart attack risk for women who also didn't smoke, had a healthy waist-to-hip-ratio, and exercised regularly. But it's better than nothing.
The study appears in today's edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
How Exercise Helps the Heart
Another new study shows how exercise helps lower women's risk of heart problems.
Regular physical activity helps prevent heart attacks and other heart "events" in three ways:
- Through blood chemicals related to inflammation, blood vessel function, and clotting
- By improving blood pressure
- By improving cholesterol levels
Data for the study came from more than 27,000 healthy women aged 45 and older who were studied for nearly 11 years, on average.
Women who reported regular physical exercise were the least likely to have a heart "event" during the study, note the researchers.
They included Samia Mora, MD, MHS, of Harvard Medical School and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. Their study appears online in the journal Circulation.
What About Men?
Akesson and Mora only studied women. But they expect that the general findings would also apply to men.
"I am convinced that men would benefit from a similar healthy diet and lifestyle as the women did in our study," Akesson tells WebMD.
More research is needed to see how closely the results match in men and women, Akesson adds.
Likewise, Mora tells WebMD via email that "there is no reason to believe that the findings would not also apply to men, but of course, further studies should be carried out in men."
"Data from previous studies have clearly shown that exercise and physical activity reduce cardiovascular events in both men and women (around 30% to 50% reduction in events with no substantial difference in gender)," Mora writes.