Here’s one more way men and women are equal: neither sex should have heart disease.
Last year, Finnish investigators showed that 4 of 5 heart attacks in men could be avoided. All the men had to do were five things: be modestly active, eat a good diet, not smoke, drink alcohol moderately and maintain a normal body weight. The findings of this robust study made an impression on the cardiology community. But it was a study of just men.
This year, a group of American researchers reported similar results in women. In the Nurses’ Health Study, women had to do six things to avoid heart disease: not smoke, keep a normal body weight, exercise 2.5 hours per week, eat a good diet, drink less than 1 alcoholic drink per day and watch less than 7 hours of TV each week. In this 20-year study, the 23-44 year-old nurses who made those basic choices were 73% less likely to get heart disease. These were nearly the same odds as the Finnish men.
There was a bonus in the Nurses Health Study. The same six lifestyle factors prevented 93% of diabetes and 57% of high blood pressure in women.
A note on watching too much TV: three studies published this month showed inactivity—sitting for long periods–was linked to higher rates of heart disease and even death. Although regular exercise lowered the risk, it did not eliminate it. (Athletes with desk jobs pay attention to that.)
Although the research on “sitting disease” is still early, not sitting in one place for hours at a time may be an important way to live longer and better.
Changing the language:
Perhaps the most important thing about this new research is its effect on the language of heart disease prevention. Rather than treating diseases like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, doctors are looking at the basic and fundamental things that keep us from getting heart disease. Moving our bodies, making wise food and drink choices, not smoking and getting away from white screens will deliver far more health than any pill or capsule.
I know what you may be thinking: This is not new.
That’s partly true. But what’s different is that these studies are changing the way doctors think. They may now emphasize lifestyle changes before drugs. More doctors are writing prescriptions for exercise.
Remember these numbers: four out of five.
For four out of five men or women, heart disease need not happen. It is not necessary. It is not normal to let heart disease do this to us.