Heart Healthy and Cancer Free

Cancer risks reduced by following a heart healthy lifestyle

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cancer doesn’t just show up on your doorstep one day. It takes years to develop. That’s why a healthy lifestyle – over time – makes such a difference.

Individuals who followed the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “Life’s Simple Seven” were far less likely to develop cancer than folks who did not, according to researchers.

"Check out Life’s Simple Seven."

In 2010, the American Heart Association (AHA) defined seven factors necessary to achieving ideal cardiovascular health. The goal is to improve the heart health of Americans by 20 percent by 2020. These health behaviors are now called “Life’s Simple Seven.”

Life’s Simple Seven are behaviors that promote heart health and include:

  • Being physically active
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
  • Keeping blood pressure down
  • Regulating blood sugar levels
  • Not smoking

A team of researchers led by Laura J. Rasmussen-Torvik, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, conducted a study to determine if these seven heart healthy behaviors were associated with lower cancer rates.

Researchers reviewed data from the ongoing Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities (ARIC) study. A total of 13,253 African American and Caucasian men and women were recruited for this study in 1987. Study participants were interviewed and examined at the start of the ARIC study about their various health behaviors.

Investigators looked at the number of cancer cases diagnosed among this group during 17 to 19 years of follow-up. After reviewing cancer registries and hospital records, 2,880 individuals were identified as having been diagnosed with cancer.

Lung, colon or rectum, prostate and breast cancers were the most common diagnoses. Non-melanoma skin cancers were not included in the study.

Researchers learned that people who had six of the seven healthy lifestyle factors had a 51 percent reduced risk of developing cancer compared with people who had none of the factors.

Individuals who met four of the factors reduced their cancer risks by 33 percent, and those who had adhered to one or two of Life’s Simple Seven saw a 21 percent decreased risk compared with people who did not maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In a press release, Dr. Rasmussen-Torvik said, “We were gratified to know adherence to the Life's Simple Seven goals was also associated with reduced incidence of cancer. This can help health professionals provide a clear, consistent message about the most important things people can do to protect their health and lower their overall risk for chronic diseases."

"I think this is a very important message. Most of the things we can do to protect our heart – exercising 2 1/2 hours per week, eating a Mediterranean diet, avoiding tobacco smoke and other tobacco products, and maintaining a healthy body weight – are also likely to reduce our risk of many common cancers," heart specialist Sarah A. Samaan, MD, FACC, told dailyRx News.  

"Many times people wait until they are sick or diagnosed with a problem before they start caring for their health, but the message that we can reduce cancer and cardiovascular risk by an astonishing 50 percent by making simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes is a message we cannot afford to ignore," said Dr. Samaan who is author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: How to Stop Heart Disease Before or After it Starts.

The study was published March 18 in the journal Circulation. This research was supported by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 18, 2013
Last Updated:
August 16, 2013