Choose A Heart-healthy Lifestyle
What's the best combination of diet and lifestyle factors to maximize your chances of avoiding a myocardial infarction? Swedish researchers have the answer. If you eat healthy food, drink only moderate amounts of alcohol, keep your weight down, take regular exercise and don't smoke, your risk of a heart attack is significantly reduced. Sounds like just plain commonsense, doesn't it? Well, Swedish researchers have the data to back up this basic hunch. Sadly, not many women actually follow this simple advice. Heart Disease the Most Important Cause of Death in Women “Coronary heart disease is the most important cause of death and disability in women," says Agneta Akesson, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm. "Despite a lower incidence in women, coronary heart disease-related mortality and the percentage of sudden deaths from coronary heart disease without previous symptoms is higher, and the trend of decline in incidence is slower than in men.” Dr. Akesson and her colleagues identified dietary patterns over 10 years in 24,444 post-menopausal women. The women filled out regular questionnaires in which they noted how often they ate 96 common foods. They also gave details about family history, health status, education, medications, body measurements and physical activity. When they enrolled in the study in 1997, none of the women had heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Common Dietary Patterns in Eating Habits Their eating habits fell into four main dietary patterns: "healthy" (vegetables, fruits and legumes), "Western/Swedish" (red meat, processed meat, poultry, rice, pasta, eggs, fried potatoes and fish), "alcohol" (wine, liquor, beer and some snacks) and "sweets" (sweet baked goods, candy, chocolate, jam and ice cream). The Low-Risk Diet Two of the diet patterns—“healthy” and “alcohol”—were associated with a reduced risk for heart attack, the researchers said. “The low-risk diet is characterized by a high intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish and legumes, in combination with moderate alcohol consumption (5 grams of alcohol per day or less), along with the three low-risk lifestyle behaviors (not smoking, having a waist-to-hip ratio of less than the 75th percentile and being physically active). It was associated with a 92 percent decreased risk compared with findings in women without any low-risk diet and lifestyle factors,” Dr Akesson said. Too Few Women Follow This Advice Although knowledge of a healthy lifestyle has been well publicized in recent years, the researchers found only five per cent of their study group actually put it into practice. Over the period of the study, 308 women had heart attacks and 51 of them died. “This combination of healthy behaviors, present in five percent [of the study group], may prevent 77 percent of myocardial infarctions in the study population," Dr Akesson said. "In conclusion, these dietary behaviors, together with a healthy lifestyle and body weight, may prevent most myocardial infarctions.” How the Diet Works Several components of fruits, vegetables and whole grains — including fiber, antioxidant vitamins and minerals — have been associated with a reduced risk for coronary heart disease. Previous studies have also found small amounts of alcohol are beneficial in preventing the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which could help prevent heart attacks.
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