Overall Healthy Lifestyle Significantly Reduces Women's Risk of Sudden Cardiac Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As women go through menopause, their bodily functions change – and sometimes not for the better.  As I mentioned in an earlier sharepost about the Heart Truth exhibit created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, there are numerous factors, including menopause, that can put a woman at risk for heart disease.   Key points from that blog include:

    • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, regardless of race or ethnicity. And two-thirds of women who have heart attacks never fully recover.
    • Heart disease is a life-long condition. Procedures may help but the arteries remain damaged. In fact, your blood vessels will steadily worsen unless you change your habits.
    • High blood cholesterol (as well as high blood pressure) puts you at risk. The exhibit stated, “Although young women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than young men, between the ages of 45 and 55, women’s levels begin to rise higher than men’s. After age 55, this ‘cholesterol gap’ between women and men becomes still wider.” The higher a woman’s blood cholesterol level, the greater chance she has of developing heart disease.

    The reason that I’m sharing this information again is to reinforce how important it is to take care of yourself. The good news is that recent research out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has found that women who embrace an overall healthy lifestyle significantly reduce their risk for sudden cardiac death. These findings appeared in the July 6, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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    The study followed 81,722 registered female nurses taking part in the Nurses’ Health Study who were between the ages of 38 and 63 years old at the beginning of the study from 1984 to 2010. These nurses filled out a questionnaire about medical history and cardiovascular and lifestyle risk factors every 2 years. Information on dietary habits was assessed every 4 years.  A total of 321 of the nurses in this group died from sudden cardiac death events.

    The researchers, led by Dr. Stephanie Chiuve, an instructor in medicine at BWH, assessed the nurses’ responses based on a healthy lifestyle, which researchers defined as not smoking, daily exercise for 30 minutes per day or more, a healthy body weight and a Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish and moderate intake of alcohol. 

    Researchers found that women with all four healthy lifestyle habits lowered their risk of sudden cardiac risk by approximately a 92 percent as compared to women with none of the healthy habits.  And what I found most interesting was that the researchers actually estimated that 81percent of sudden cardiac deaths may have been avoided had all of the nurses followed this healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, the study found that 79 percent of sudden cardiac deaths among nonsmokers may have been avoided through adherence to the other three lifestyle factors (healthy weight, healthy diet and daily exercise).

Published On: July 20, 2011