In your 20s and 30s, you’re most worried about achieving success with career and personal goals. Not surprisingly, heart attack risk is far from the mind, because for both men and women, heart disease is often viewed as a health condition that affects older adults.
But while overall deaths from heart disease have dropped over the decades, the trends among younger women aged 35-44 have been going up by one to two percent, highlighting a need to do something differently…but what?
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, adopting six healthy habits can significantly reduce heart disease risk.
Researchers followed almost 70,000 women from 1991 to 2011. The women were between 27 and 44 years old at the start of the study.
“Women who followed all 6 healthy habits cut heart attack risk by 92% and heart disease risk factors by 66% compared to women who did not practice the healthy habits.”
They examined the women’s heart attack incidences as well as their cardiovascular disease factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and type-2 diabetes. They examined the data with relation to whether the participants reported engaging in six healthy habits associated with heart disease risk. The habits were:
- Not smoking
- Maintaining body mass index (BMI) in the normal range
- Exercising at least 2.5 hours per week
- Watching 7 or fewer hours of TV weekly
- Consuming no more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day
- Maintaining a healthy diet per the Healthy Eating Plate
By the end of the study, 456 women had heart attacks and over 31,000 women reported physician diagnoses of one or more heart disease risk factors. The women who were diagnosed with heart disease had an average age of about 50, while the average age of women diagnosed with heart disease risk factors was about 47.
Analysis showed that women who followed all 6 healthy habits cut heart attack risk by 92% and heart disease risk factors by 66% compared to women who did not practice the healthy habits.
In addition, the results also revealed that 75% of heart attacks in women in this age range and nearly half of all heart disease risk factors could have been prevented if they had adhered to healthy lifestyle habits.
Lead study author Andrea Chomistek, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Indiana University, Bloomington, concluded, “This is an important public health message. 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 Bottom Line
This study could not be more timely given that February is Heart Health Month and February 6th is National Wear Red Day – the perfect period to consider the seriousness of heart disease in women’s health.
According to the American Heart Association, one third of women die of heart disease or stroke – more than all cancers combined – and 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, statistics that need to be changed, and soon. If a short list of lifestyle changes can push us toward better heart health, then it’s time we start making those changes.
For both men and women, healthy eating, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and abstaining from smoking and overdrinking have benefits that extend beyond a healthy heart. But if implementing all six habits at once seems overwhelming, start with just a few. While making all six habits a part of daily life is ideal for maximal heart health benefits, even adopting just four out of six can help reduce your cardiovascular risk.
So take a moment, give yourself a quick quiz, and see where you fall with these 6 habits. How will you start your heart health journey?
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.