While having a heart attack is never a good thing, it does not mean life is over. Or at least, if you make the right choices.
Regular readers of the Rantings will of course know where this conversation is going. Newer readers will likely not be shocked either. So why, given that we all know that healthy lifestyle changes are good for the heart, am I bothering to write this at all?
Because I just don’t understand.
The benefits of the right lifestyle changes are just flat-out powerful. So why, given the power of lifestyle changes, do we still lose almost 600,000 people annually in the US alone, putting heart disease at the top of the list of killers in the US.
Following mainstream medical advice, EVERY heart attack patient will be put on medications. Statins, blood thinners, blood pressure medications and probably some cyanide just to round it off. Lifestyle changes are given tongue in cheek. “Quit smoking.” “Lose weight.” “Eat better.” “Exercise more.” These are GOALS, not treatment plans. I can’t tell you how often patients have been given these goals, but no real idea of how to attain them.
The reality is that very few doctors, cardiologists included, have neither the training NOR the time to educate patients about what they need. Medications are what they know best and physicians use the tools they are most comfortable with. There is also the small possibility that cardiologists think that lifestyle changes are NOT really all that helpful and that patients won’t follow them anyway. Based on the results of this particular study, if this is your cardiologist’s opinion, it’s time to find a new one.
In it, researchers looked at 4,174 participants with coronary heart disease. Ideal lifestyle factors were broken out into 4 categories:
- Physical activity ≥4 times/week
- Highest adherence to the Mediterranean diet score
- Waist circumference <88 cm for women (just under 35″) and <102 cm for men (just over 40″)
I think we can all agree that these are some pretty easy guidelines that everyone can attain. And, if you have already had a heart attack and feel that these guidelines are too stringent, then by all means keep your life insurance premiums paid up. I really don’t have more to say–it’s your LIFE on the line here.
So what did the researchers find? Here’s the results:
- Physical activity ≥4 versus no exercise 31% lower risk of another heart attack and 29% lower risk of dying (which, we can all agree, is NOT the desired outcome).
- Non-smoking versus smoking 50% lower risk of heart attack and 47% lower risk of death.
- Mediterranean diet adherence led to 23% lower heart attack risk and 16% lower risk of death.
- Waist circumference did not make any difference.
But here’s where things get interesting. You see, lifestyle changes, unlike medications, are additive. When you add these healthy behaviors together you get even more bang for your buck. Here’s what happened when participants added lifestyle changes together:
- Compared to those with ZERO lifestyle factors, those with at least one had a 40% lower risk of another heart attack and 35% lower risk of death.
- Those with two factors had 51% lower (heart) and 43% (death).
- Three factors led to a 62% lower risk of another heart attack and 59% lower risk of dying.
Three factors. Not even all 4. Just adopting 3 of these factors slashed your risk of having a second heart attack and dying far more than any medication could ever hope for. Is YOUR life worth these changes?