The four lifestyle changes that can ward off heart disease and early death

Mom may have been right when she drilled into your head the importance of eating your vegetables.

And as it turns out, she was probably also right about steering clear of cigarettes and getting exercise, too.

A large, multi-center study led by Johns Hopkins researchers found a strong link between four main lifestyle factors and heart health:

  1. Regular physical activity
  2. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet
  3. Giving up smoking
  4. Keeping a normal weight

Reduce chance of death by 80 percent

Researchers discovered that adopting these four lifestyle changes could protect against coronary heart disease and calcium buildup in the arteries. Moreover, the changes helped to reduce the risk of early death by 80 percent over an eight-year period.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to find a protective association between low-risk lifestyle factors and early signs of vascular disease, coronary heart disease and death, in a single longitudinal evaluation," lead study author Haitham Ahmed, MD, MPH, said in a press release.

Smoking plays the largest role

More than 6,200 men and women over age 40 – from all ethnic backgrounds – were recruited for the study and followed for an average of 7.6 years. The participants who were able to adopt the four lifestyle factors had an 80 percent lower death rate than those who did not, the authors wrote.

Smoking, it appears, played the biggest role in reducing the risk of heart disease and early death. Even smokers who adopted two or more of the four lifestyle changes had lower survival rates than obese non-smokers who did not adopt the changes.

The researchers note that while there may be certain genetic risk factors involved in conditions like diabetes or heart disease, taking precautions with lifestyle changes can help immensely.

"While there are risk factors that people can't control, such as their family history and age," said Ahmed, "these lifestyle measures are things that people can change and consequently make a big difference in their health. That's why we think this is so important."

The study is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

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