According to a study released Monday, women who actually follow all of the standard health advice - eat sensibly, don't smoke, get some exercise, keep the weight down, have an occasional drink - can reduce their chance of heart disease an astonishing 82 percent.
Many studies over the years have shown the importance of specific habits such as kicking cigarettes or cutting out saturated fat. But Harvard researchers say theirs is the first to show what happens when people do everything they are supposed to.
However, the study also shows this isn't easy. The research was done on middle-aged female nurses, who presumably are fairly health-conscious. Yet just 1 percent of them actually followed all the rules. The researchers defined a heart-healthy lifestyle this way:
Avoid being overweight. This means having a body-mass index of 25 or less. (A woman 5-foot-4 who weights 145 pounds has a BMI of 25.)
Get at least a half-hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise.
Average half a drink or more of alcohol a day.
Eat healthy food. This means avoiding saturated fats and getting relatively large amounts of fish oil, folate, fiber, vegetable oils and whole-grain products. The researchers found that those who followed all these rules reduced their risk of heart attacks, congestive heart failure and stroke by 82 percent compared with the other women in the study.
The study results are very dramatic, because these are not drastic changes for people. Premature heart disease can be virtually eliminated by these lifestyle changes. Even though all the participants were female, it is likely that the results would be similar for men.
Getting enough exercise and keeping weight off were areas where the nurses most often failed, he said. Only 20 percent reported getting an hour or more of vigorous exercise weekly. Sixty percent were overweight. The researchers were surprised that so few of the nurses actually got a perfect score - and added the proportion of people in the general population who would get a perfect score is probably a lot smaller.
Annual American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta November 10, 1999
Dr. Mercola's Comment:
I would certainly not agree with all of the above recommendations on how to stay healthy. The main objective is the definition of healthy food. Most experts believe that grains are healthy while I am quite confident that they are one of the major reasons why people develop chronic illness. The recommendations do compensate for this though by including proper weight as an important variable.
Well, we all know that if you load up on these "healthy" grains you will most likely not have an ideal weight (and 60% of the women in this study were overweight). I would also disagree with daily exercise. I believe the evidence is quite clear that we need at least one day of rest per week. As we age, two to three vigorous workouts per week are likely to be even better.
It was interesting to note that applying these guidelines seemed to virtually eliminate heart disease. It was also interesting to note how few of the nurses followed these guidelines (only one in 100).