Despite societal beliefs, heart disease is NOT genetic. It is almost entirely environmental. Lifestyle factors to lower your risk are very well established.
Most of you can probably name off the top few easily: Exercise, not smoking, plant based diet, don’t stress, avoid animal based saturated fats, more omega-3 fatty acids, etc… But some are a little more elusive and less well known. But usually these risk factors may play a smaller (but no less important) role, such as BPA in plastic water, dark chocolate, nuts and lycopene in tomatoes. But what if there was a very important risk factor that had a large impact on your risk of a heart attack or dying of a heart attack that you were not aware of?
Enter this large study out of the Netherlands. Luckily, the Dutch are a generally healthy people, so these researchers were actually able to find some healthy people to study (as opposed to the US, where researchers have to peek into dark corners and seedy vegan restaurants to find the healthy residents). Basically, they looked at 17,887 men and women and how their health behaviors were linked to the later risk of heart attacks or cardiac deaths.
Here’s the behaviors and the amount they lowered the risk individually:
- Sufficient physical activity (≥3.5 h/week cycling or sports–52% of study participants) led to 26% lower risk.
- Healthy diet (Mediterranean Diet Score ≥5–37% of participants) led to 12% lower risk.
- Moderate alcohol consumption (≥1 beverage/month–91% men, 78% of women participants).
- Non-smoking (65% of participants) led to 43% lower risk.
Overall, when all 4 of these healthy lifestyles were done together, there was an overall 57% lower risk of heart disease and 67% lower risk of fatal heart attack. Sadly, even in this healthier country, only 12% of the study participants adhered to all the factors studied. And like many of the studies on heart disease, these guidelines are pretty basic and very easy to achieve. More specific lifestyle changes would likely lead to much greater reductions.
There was one more behavior they look at:
Sufficient sleep duration of at least 7 hours per night.
Man, I better hit the hiking trail drinking red wine and eating raw nuts dipped in pure cacao.
In the study, 80% of men and 86% of women obtained sufficient sleep. Pretty sure we wouldn’t see these numbers here in the US with salaried employees with kids (or 5 blog / week health related blog authors…). Overall, getting sufficient sleep lowered the risk of heart disease by 22% and fatal heart attack by 46%. These are some pretty strong numbers.
But when added to the 4 factors listed about, the protection jumped, lowering risk of heart disease by 65% and fatal heart attack by 83%. These are some pretty serious numbers.
Overall, this really should not come as too big of a surprise because we know that sleep is incredibly important and, conversely, not sleeping well is unhealthy. Study after study have linked poor or too little sleep to increased inflammation, obesity and diabetes.
Lest you think that you’re ok because you load up on Ambien and Lunesta with your valium, there are some pretty scary associations between the use of these types of drugs and death (arguably something we want to avoid…).
And stress kills sleep quality and duration, which likely feeds into this entire picture of preventing heart disease and fatal heart attacks.
With that said, I’m off to bed to lower my risk of a heart attack..