Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Last year, more than 600,000 Americans died from the condition. But new research suggests basic lifestyle changes and healthy habits can reduce a man's risk of heart attack by a whopping 80 percent.
As researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institute recently showed, the majority of a person's risk of heart attack can be mitigated by maintaing a healthy weight and diet, getting enough exercise, refraining from smoking and moderating alcohol consumption.
"It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks, what is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors," Agneta Akesson, an associate professor at Karolinska's Institute of Environmental Medicine who led the study, said in a press release.
"While mortality from heart disease has declined in recent decades, with much of the reduction attributed to medical therapies, prevention through a healthy lifestyle avoids potential side effects of medication and is more cost effective for population-wide reductions in coronary heart disease," Akesson added.
Researchers calculated the statistical importance of specific risk factors by observing the behavior and incidence of heart disease among a population of 20,721 healthy Swedish men, ages 45 to 79, for a period of 11 years.
Not smoking lowered the men's risk by 36 percent. Moderate daily and weekly exercise routines lowered risk by just three percent. Males with a waistline of 37 inches or less had a 12 percent lower risk. Drinking fewer than two alcoholic drinks per day lowered risk by 11 percent. And finally, Those who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish reduced their risk of heart attack by 18 percent.
Remarkably, only one percent of the study participants exhibited all five of the healthy habits necessary to reduce the risk of heart attack by 80 percent. But statistics show the potential is there.
The research was published this week in the journal Journal of the American College of Cardiology.