80 percent of heart attacks in men may be preventable

80 percent of heart attacks in men may be preventable

A study highlights the importance of following the advice doctors have been dispensing for years on smoking, drinking and other healthy behaviors.

Middle-aged and older men were much less likely to have heart attacks if they drank only in moderation; didn’t smoke; ate a balanced, healthy diet; exercised regularly; and maintained a healthy weight, according to Swedish scientists.

Only about 1 percent of the more than 20,000 men studied fell into this category. But those 1 percent were 86 percent less likely to have heart attacks during the 11-year study period than those who ate poorly, were overweight, exercised too little, smoked and drank too much alcohol, the researchers said.

The study didn’t rule out a heart attack down the road even for the healthiest subjects, nor did it determine if they lived longer than their less-healthy counterparts. Still, “there is a lot to gain and money to be saved if people had a healthier lifestyle,” said study lead author Agneta Akesson, an associate professor with the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden.

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Hoping to gain an understanding of the combined effect of different aspects of healthy living, Akesson’s team examined medical records and surveys of more than 20,700 Swedish men ages 45 to 79 years old in 1997. None had a history of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The researchers tracked them until 2009.

Eight percent of the men — 1,724 — did not practice any of the five healthy behaviors, and 166 of that group had heart attacks. Of the 1 percent of men — 212 — who practiced all five healthy behaviors, only three had heart attacks. Researchers concluded that if a man practiced all five healthy behaviors together, 79 percent of first heart attacks could have been prevented.

Also, individual behaviors reduced the risk for heart attack. For example, a healthy diet was linked to a nearly 20 percent risk reduction.

The healthiest men in the study exercised 40 minutes a day, but every little bit helps, according to Teresa Beckman, a physical therapist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. “It may be necessary for you to start with just 10 or 15 minutes of activity a day,” Beckman said. “You can gradually increase duration and intensity over time, but always listen to your body.”

And of course, stopping — or better yet, not starting — smoking in a major health factor.

“Smoking is just about the worst thing you can do to your body, said Dr. Adam Posner, a pulmonologist at Condell. “It damages your lungs, heart and vascular system, and also your skin.”

Do you know your risk for heart disease? Take our heart risk assessment here. If you are at high risk, see one of Advocate Heart Institute’s cardiologists within 24 hours.

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One Comment

  1. Dr. Ashwani Garg

    Dear Ms. Toomey, very nice article – offering hope that healthy lifestyle changes can result in great results. Every doctor should emphasize this advice first before prescribing pills. Our job as doctors should be to lead patients to health and give them hope and motivate them. But to do so we have to live this life as well – too many doctors themselves are not following the advice above. The magnitude of benefit is even more striking with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s program – in a recent Journal of Family Practice article by Dr. Esselstyn, the rate of repeat coronary event of patients in his program was under 1% compared to 20-25% with conventional cardiac care and conventional lowfat diet.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.