Harvard Health Letter

Healthy lifestyle protects women against heart disease

It's no secret that healthy living can reduce your risk for developing heart disease. But ever wonder how much it may help? Up to 92%, suggests a study published Jan. 6, 2015, in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. It evaluated health habits of 70,000 young and middle-aged women during a 20-year period. The habits included not smoking; exercising for at least 2.5 hours each week; watching TV for fewer than seven hours a week; consuming a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains but low in red meat, refined grains, and sugar; consuming no more than one alcoholic drink daily; and having a body mass index in the normal range. Compared with women who had none of those habits, women with all six reduced their risk of developing heart disease by 92%. Why do those habits provide so much protection against heart disease? "Limiting TV watching frees up time for exercise, and the other activities are known to reduce blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar, which reduce the three major risk factors for heart disease—hypertension, high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, and diabetes," says Dr. Randall Zusman, a cardiologist and Harvard Medical School associate professor. And even though the study involved young and middle-aged women, Dr. Zusman reminds us that it's never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

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