July 22, 2009 / 7:32 PM / 10 years ago

Healthy diet and lifestyle cuts heart failure risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Sticking with a healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce the risks of high blood pressure and heart failure, in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients, according to the findings of two studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the first investigation, Dr. Luc Djousse, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues analyzed data from 20,900 men in the Physicians’ Health Study I (1982-2008) to assess the link between lifestyle factors and the lifetime risk of heart failure. The subjects were followed for 22.4 years, on average.

The lifetime risk of heart failure, assessed at age 40 years, was about one in seven, the report indicates.

A variety of healthy lifestyle habits were linked to a lower risk of heart failure. These habits included maintaining a normal body weight, not smoking, regular exercise, moderate alcohol intake, consumption of breakfast cereals, and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Men who adhered to none of the healthy lifestyle factors had the highest lifetime risk of heart failure-21.2 percent—while those who adhered to four or more had the lowest risk-10.1 percent.

The second investigation, conducted by Dr. John P. Forman and colleagues, from Harvard Medical School, Boston, involved an analysis of data from 83,882 women in the Nurses’ Health Study (1991-2005). The goal was to assess the impact that various diet and lifestyle factors had, in combination, on the risk of high blood pressure.

The study focused on six factors, previously tied to a reduced risk of high blood pressure: normal body weight, vigorous exercise for an average of 30 minutes per day, consuming a healthy diet, modest alcohol intake, use of pain medications less than once per week, and use of supplemental folic acid, a form of vitamin B.

The presence of 6, 5, 4, and 3 of the factors cut the risk of high blood pressure by 78, 72, 58, and 54 percent, respectively, relative to the complete absence of these factors.

The factor with the single greatest impact on high blood pressure was body weight. Women who were obese were 4.7-times more likely to develop high blood pressure than were women of normal body weight.

The authors conclude that many new cases of high blood pressure could be prevented through adherence to the low-risk dietary and lifestyle factors described. This, they add, could yield major public health benefits.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, July 22/29, 2009.

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