Healthy Behaviors Lowered Heart Attack Risk in Men

Diet, exercise, not smoking and low belly fat all improved heart health in men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Medications may be responsible for a recent decline in heart disease-related deaths, but healthy lifestyle choices like exercise and not smoking may cut heart risks without the side effects.

According to the American Heart Association, hospitalizations due to heart attack decreased 38 percent between 1999 and 2011. The risk of dying from heart attack dropped by almost a quarter.

Medications like blood thinners, beta blockers that lower blood pressure and cholesterol-fighting therapies may all help lower the risk of having a heart attack, reports the Mayo Clinic. But these treatments may have side effects. Aspirin, for example, can cause intestinal bleeding.

A new study from Sweden has found that healthy behaviors can lower heart attack risk in men. These behaviors include weight management, diet, exercise, not smoking and drinking moderately.

"Make healthy lifestyle choices to reduce your heart attack risk."

Agneta Akesson, PhD, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, led the research.

The authors of the new study followed 20,721 healthy Swedish men for 11 years. They were all between 45 and 79 years old.

The men answered surveys about their diet, alcohol consumption, smoking habits, exercise levels and belly fat.

The study authors noted that those with the lowest risk of heart events were those who walked or cycled for at least 40 minutes per day, exercised at least one hour per week and had a waist size of less than 37 inches. They also drank moderate amounts of alcohol and ate fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish. Also, the men with the lowest risk did not smoke.

Each healthy lifestyle choice reduced heart attack risk, the authors noted.

For example, the authors observed that men who followed a healthy diet combined with moderate alcohol consumption had an estimated 35 percent lower risk of heart attack — compared to the high-risk men who had none of the healthy behaviors.

The chances of having a heart attack went down dramatically in men who engaged in all the healthy lifestyle choices. The study authors calculated an 86 percent reduction in risk for these men.

The authors said that all the healthy lifestyle choices combined could prevent almost 4 out of 5 heart attacks in men.

These lifestyle choices also had a major impact on high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the authors noted.

"A healthy lifestyle is medicine. First, by eliminating sugar, grains and vegetable oils from your diet, you'll be removing the foods that cause the inflammation that lead to heart disease and other chronic illnesses," said Rusty Gregory, a wellness coach, personal fitness trainer and author of "Self-Care Reform: How to Discover Your Own Path to Good Health" and "Living Wheat-Free For Dummies."

"Second, moderate exercise is known to strengthen the heart muscle, making it more efficient at pumping blood and reducing the risk of heart attacks," Gregory said.

"Third, oxidative stress caused by smoking greatly increases the risk of inflammation that leads to heart disease," he said.

"Fourth, insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to glucose in the bloodstream. It is carried to cells to be used for energy or stored for later use often times leading to excessive fat. When insulin levels are high, it is possible that heart attacks can occur due to the narrowing of arteries," he said.

"It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks," said Dr. Akesson in a press release. "What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors."

The study authors noted that less than 2 percent of the US population follows habits that promote ideal heart health.

"It is important to note that these lifestyle behaviors are modifiable, and changing from high-risk to low-risk behaviors can have great impact on cardiovascular health," Dr. Akesson added. "However, the best thing one can do is to adopt healthy lifestyle choices early in life.”

The study was published Sept. 22 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The research was funded by grants from the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte) and the Swedish Research Council/Infrastructure. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 22, 2014
Last Updated:
September 23, 2014