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Naps may help your heart (if not your job)

February 13, 2007|Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writer

Doctors have found a new formula for fighting heart disease: zzzzzzzzzzzz ...

In the largest study to date of siestas and coronary deaths, researchers reported Monday that people who napped at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, were 37% less likely to die of heart disease. Occasional napping brought a 12% reduction.

"If you can have a nap without disturbing your working pattern or relationship with your boss, do have it," said senior author Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Trichopoulos said the risk reduction found in the study was on par with drugs commonly prescribed to reduce cardiovascular risk, such as statins.

Trichopoulos got the idea for the study because countries where siestas are common tend to have low rates of death from coronary heart disease.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, followed for about six years 23,681 people in Greece who had no history of coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer.

Trichopoulos said the number of deaths was small -- only 133 from coronary heart disease -- so broad conclusions were difficult to draw. Still, after sifting out confounding factors such as obesity, smoking and diet, the benefit of napping remained.

The study, funded by the European Commission and the Greek government, did not pinpoint how napping protected the heart, but Trichopoulos said stress relief probably played a role.

Several researchers who were not connected to the study found the results intriguing but not definitive.

If people "are interested in lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease, they should stick to the tried and true -- which includes not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy blood pressure and a healthy cholesterol level," said UCLA cardiologist Dr. Gregg Fonarow.

As for Trichopoulos: "For the last 20 years of my life, I've worked in the U.S. So I can't really take a nap."

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jia-rui.chong@latimes.com

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