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How To Cut Midlife Heart Disease

To curb midlife heart disease and death, a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference — even for people new to healthy living.

That's the word from a new study by Dana King, M.D., and colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina.

"The findings emphasize that making the necessary changes to adhere to a healthy lifestyle is extremely worthwhile, and that middle-age is not too late to act," write King and colleagues.

They reviewed data from a long-term health study of 15,700 U.S. adults. Participants were aged 45 to 64 in the late 1980s, when the study started. They completed surveys about their lifestyle habits.

King's team counted the number of adults who had a healthy lifestyle, based on the following four factors:

  • Eat at least five fruits and vegetables daily

  • Walk or get other exercise for at least 2.5 hours weekly

  • Keep BMI (body mass index) out of the obese range

  • Don't smoke

Few participants — 8.5 percent — met all four of those standards at the study's start.

Heart-Healthy Habits

During the study, participants checked in with the researchers every three years, repeating the healthy lifestyle survey and noting any new health problems.

A total of 970 participants stepped up their health habits to meet the healthy living standard within six years of enrolling in the study.B The researchers hadn't asked them to do so; the study was purely observational.

Eating more fruits and vegetables was the most common lifestyle change, followed by getting more exercise, quitting smoking, and losing extra weight.

Healthy Lifestyle vs. Heart Disease

The study highlights two key benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle — cutting heart disease and premature death.

During the study, few participants — fewer than 5 percent — died or had cardiovascular disease "events" such as heart attacks.

People who adopted all four healthy living habits were 40 percent less likely to die and 35 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who didn't make those changes.

Those benefits began promptly — within four years of starting a healthy lifestyle — King's team notes.

The results held when the researchers considered factors including age, race, sex, social or economic status, and history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.

In short, healthy living helped participants across the board.

The study appears in The American Journal of Medicine's July issue

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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