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Heart attack, stroke not enough to prompt some people to shape up

April 16, 2013|By Karen Kaplan
  • Even after a heart attack, stroke or other life-threatening event, 14% of people in a new study said they didn't start to exercise more or make other healthy lifestyle changes.
Even after a heart attack, stroke or other life-threatening event, 14%… (Spencer Platt / Getty Images )

We all know that smoking is bad for us, that exercise is good for us, and that we should eat vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods. All of this advice is even more true for people who have had serious health scares due to heart disease or stroke.

And yet, 14% of people who have had a heart attack, stroke, heart surgery or serious chest pain continue to ignore these common sense recommendations, according to new research in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Only 4% of the 7,519 people included in the study had adopted all three of these ideal behaviors, the study found.

An international team of researchers looked at data on thousands of people around the world who had suffered heart attacks, strokes or had other coronary heart issues four to five years earlier. Overall, they found that 43% had made one positive change in their lifestyle habits and 31% had two.

(The categories don’t add up to 100% because the figures were calculated separately and each one takes into account other factors to make sure the results were statistically significant, said study leader Dr. Koon Teo, a clinician and researcher at Canada’s McMaster University.)

Other patterns emerged as well:

* Women were more likely than men to improve their smoking, eating and exercising habits – 7.4% of women changed all three behaviors, compared with only 2.4% of men. Women were also 66% more likely than men to improve in two of these areas.

* Conversely, men were more likely than women to have made a grand total of zero changes after a heart-related health scare, 26.4% to 7.2%.

* People who lived in urban areas were 22% more likely than rural residents to have made two or more lifestyle improvements.

* People in low-income countries were least likely to make at least two of these beneficial changes. Compared to those study participants, people in high-income countries were 2.6 times more likely to do so; people in upper-middle-income countries were 42% more likely to do so, and people in lower-middle-income countries were 2.7 times more likely to do so.

You can read a summary of the study online here.

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