4 Simple Steps to a Healthy Heart

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Updated: 1/30/2012 10:58 am

Sept. 13, 2011 -- Having a healthy heart may be as easy as four simple steps: Don't smoke, lose weight, exercise regularly, and eat vegetables.

A new study shows people who followed these four healthy lifestyle habits reduced their risk of heart failure by 81% in women in 69% in men.

The study is published in Circulation: Heart Failure.

Researchers found that the more healthy-lifestyle habits a person followed, the lower their risk of heart failure was. But even practicing just one healthy lifestyle habit was enough to lower the risk of heart failure by up to 47% in women and 31% in men.

"Any steps you take to stay healthy can reduce your risk of heart failure," says researcher Gang Hu, MD, PhD, director of the Chronic Disease Epidemiology Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., in a news release. "Hypothetically, about half of new heart failure cases occurring in this population could have been prevented if everyone engaged in at least three healthy lifestyle behaviors."

Heart failure is a progressive disease that occurs when the heart muscle becomes weakened and unable to pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body's needs. At age 40, a person's risk of developing heart failure in their lifetime is about one in five.

Healthy Habits, Healthy Heart

In the study, researchers compared the risk of heart failure in a group of 38,075 men and women in Finland. After about 14 years of follow-up, 638 men and 445 women developed heart failure.

After taking into account other factors known to increase the risk of heart failure, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and a history of heart attack, the results showed four healthy lifestyle habits decreased the likelihood of developing heart failure.

The healthy lifestyle habits were:

Not smoking. Male smokers had an 86% higher risk of heart failure compared to those who had never smoked. Women smokers had a 109% higher risk.

Maintaining a healthy weight. Men who were obese were 75% more likely to develop heart failure, and women were 106% more likely. Being overweight increased the risk of heart failure by 15% in men and 21% in women.

Exercising. Men who regularly engaged in moderate physical activity, like walking, had a 21% lower risk of heart failure; women who did the same had a 13% lower risk. Higher levels of exercise and physical activity reduced this risk even more, by 33% in men and 36% in women.

Eating vegetables. Men and women who ate vegetables three to six times per week had a 26% and 27%, respectively, lower risk of heart failure than those who ate vegetables less than once per week.

"Health care workers should discuss healthy lifestyle habits with their patients and stress that they can do more," says Hu.

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