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Why these 4 healthy lifestyle habits are so important

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Four lifestyle habits lower chances of dying by 80 percent, finds new analysis.

Johns Hopkins researchers have analyzed the effect of 4 healthy lifestyle habits that can protect your heart and lower your chances of dying from any cause.

Among the four interventions, not smoking is the most important. Exercise, the type of diet you eat and body mass index are also healthy lifestyle habits that can extend life and prevent heart disease. But is each habit that important for a longer life?

Tobacco avoidance

Smoking is not only a leading cause of death from lung cancer, but it can also contribute to cardiovascular disease. Nicotine can narrow the blood vessels to the heart that can lead to heart attack. It can also cause high blood pressure that is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and stroke.

For their study, the researchers evaluated 6,200 men and women, age 44-84, from white, African-American, Hispanic and Chinese backgrounds. The participants were taking part in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) study geared toward understanding risk factors, prevalence and prevention of cardiovascular disease that can affect large and small blood vessels in the body.

All of the participants received calcium scoring to see if they had any deposits in the blood vessels that signals heart disease at the beginning of the study. The investigation included whether anyone had heart attack, angioplasty, chest pain, sudden cardiac death or died from coronary artery disease or other causes during the 7.6 years the participants were followed.

Healthy lifestyle was graded on a 0 to 4 scale, with 0 being the least healthy.

Smoking was found to be the biggest risk for heart disease and death, even when the other healthy lifestyle practices were followed.

Roger Blumenthal, M.D., a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, director of the Ciccarone Center and senior author of the study said in a press release: β€œIn fact, smokers who adopted two or more of the healthy behaviors still had lower survival rates after 7.6 years than did nonsmokers who were sedentary and obese.”

Second hand smoke is also known to contribute to heart disease for people who are exposed. Avoiding tobacco can also help curb heart disease and risk of dying for those around you.

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Mediterranean foods

When it comes to diet, the Mediterranean diet seems to healthiest for the heart. The American Heart Association recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts – all foods that are part of the diet.

A 2009 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) supports the notion that consuming a Mediterranean diet can help prevent death from all causes.

Just reducing meat intake and boosting the number of plant based foods in the diet can help prevent heart disease and cancer that is linked to high intake of red and processed meats.

Why weight is important

It might be true that not everyone who has a higher body mass index is unhealthy. But obesity is still a known major contributor to high cholesterol, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, various types of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Maintaining a normal weight throughout life; facilitated by getting plenty of exercise and a prudent diet, can lower our chances of death from any cause and help keep heart disease at bay.

Exercise and a longer life

We all know that exercise is important for heart health. But the benefits extend beyond the cardiovascular system.

Exercise can help treat chronic pain, reduce stress levels, help keep blood pressure in check, help us sleep well and control existing health conditions such as type 2 diabetes - all of which can lower risk of heart and other chronic diseases.

The Johns Hopkins analysis showed practicing all four healthy lifestyle habits can extend lifespan as much as 80 percent, compared to following none.

The study results also showed just 129 of the participants followed all 4 of the healthy lifestyle habits.