6 Ways to Save Your Heart Health

Heart disease risk dropped for younger women who followed six healthy lifestyle practices

(RxWiki News) Pumping iron to stay strong may keep your heart pumping, too. Healthy lifestyle practices may prevent the majority of heart attacks in younger women.

New data from an ongoing study of US nurses found that healthy lifestyle habits reduced younger women's risk of heart disease.

Practicing six health habits dramatically decreased the risk of heart disease and heart attack. To have better heart health, women should not smoke, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, limit television, maintain a healthy weight and drink no more than one alcoholic drink a day, this study found.

Deepika Gopal, MD, a clinical cardiologist with The Heart Group and on the medical staff at The Heart Hospital Plano, told dailyRx News that all six of these healthy lifestyle habits are equally important.

"This study has touched on most of the healthy lifestyle habits," said Dr. Gopal, who was not involved in this research. "I would also include stress management either with yoga, meditation or other relaxation techniques."

"Although mortality rates from heart disease in the U.S. have been in steady decline for the last four decades, women aged 35-44 have not experienced the same reduction … We wanted to find out what proportion of heart disease cases could be attributed to unhealthy habits," said lead study author Andrea K. Chomistek, ScD, of the Indiana University School of Public Health in Bloomington, in a press release.

Dr. Chomistek added, "Women should begin following these lifestyle practices early in life, especially if they are already taking medication for a risk factor such as hypertension or high cholesterol. It's an easy way to prevent future heart trouble."

The Nurses’ Health Study II is an ongoing research project of more than 116,000 nurses that began in 1989. Dr. Chomistek and team used data from that study, which included information about patients’ diets and health habits.

These researchers included 69,247 of the original group of nurses, who were around 37 years old when Chomistek and team began their study. These researchers followed the women for 20 years. Every two years, the study patients completed a health survey.

Dr. Chomistek’s group found that 456 women had heart attacks and 31,691 were diagnosed with risk factors for heart disease over the course of this study. Risk factors included a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

These researchers also identified six healthy behaviors that could affect the patients' heart disease risk. These included not smoking, maintaining a normal weight and getting at least 2.5 hours of exercise each week. Two other important behaviors were watching seven or fewer hours of TV each week and drinking no more than one alcoholic drink per day. The final healthy behavior was a diet high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains — with limited red meat and sugar.

Dr. Chomistek and colleagues found that women who practiced all six of the healthy behaviors had a 92 percent lower risk of heart attack than women who did not practice these behaviors. These women also had a 66 percent lower chance of developing any risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol.

If all women adhered to all six heart-healthy behaviors, three-quarters of heart attacks and almost half of all heart disease risk factors could be prevented, Dr. Chomistek and team estimated.

Even women who don’t adhere to all six healthy habits could improve their heart health, Dr. Chomistek and colleagues noted. Women in this study who had one heart disease risk factor but adhered to at least four of the healthy habits had a lower risk of heart disease than women who adhered to fewer healthy habits.

This study was published Jan. 5 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health funded this research. Dr. Chomistek received a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. No other authors disclosed a conflict of interest.

Review Date: 
January 4, 2015