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Smoke? Fat? Sedentary? Watch out for heart disease, study says

June 04, 2013|By Mary MacVean
  • Scientists say not smoking and a Mediterranean diet -- which includes fish -- protects against heart disease.
Scientists say not smoking and a Mediterranean diet -- which includes fish… (Uncredited )

It’s no surprise that someone who has never smoked, who eats a Mediterranean diet and keeps a normal weight and who exercises regularly is healthy. How healthy? Chances of death from all causes is reduced by 80% over eight years. Pretty healthy.

Those four healthy behaviors also protected against heart disease and the buildup of calcium deposits in the arteries, the researchers said. Those are the results of a multiyear study of more than 6,000 people led by Johns Hopkins University researchers and published online Monday in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

But it’s a rare person who gets all that good protection. Only 2% of the people studied, or 129 people, satisfied all four healthy lifestyle criteria. (A Mediterranean diet, by the way, is one that’s high in fruits, vegetables and legumes, and includes olive oil, whole grains and fish, with lesser amounts of wine, dairy products and meat.)

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to find a protective association between low-risk lifestyle factors and early signs of vascular disease, coronary heart disease and death, in a single longitudinal evaluation,” Dr. Haitham Ahmed, lead author and an internal medicine resident at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement.

The study participants, ages 44 to 84, were all part of the ongoing Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and did not have a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease when they were enrolled. They were screened for coronary calcium and measured for weight, body mass index and other factors.

Researchers gave participants scores from 0 to 4, based on diet, body mass index, physical activity and smoking status. The most influential of the four was smoking, the scientists said.

“Of all the lifestyle factors, we found that smoking avoidance played the largest role in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and mortality,” Dr. Roger Blumenthal, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a study author, said in a statement. “In 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.”

Coronary heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death worldwide. The Johns Hopkins results have been echoed in previous studies that link healthy behaviors with cardiovascular health.

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