Three out of four heart attacks in young women could be prevented if they closely followed six healthy lifestyle rules, researchers say.
The rules are: not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, doing at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, watching no more than seven hours of TV each week, having a maximum of one drink per day and sticking to a healthy diet.
The rules could help women in their 30s and 40s beat heart disease, say US experts who followed the diet and other health habits of almost 70,000 female nurses for two decades.
Study lead author Andrea Chomistek, assistant professor in epidemiology and biostatistics at the Indiana University School of Public Health, said: ‘Although mortality rates from heart disease in the US have been in steady decline for the last four decades, women aged 35 to 44 have not experienced the same reduction.
‘This disparity may be explained by unhealthy lifestyle choices.’
During 20 years of follow-up, 456 women had heart attacks and 31,691 women were diagnosed with one or more cardiovascular disease risk factors, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or high levels of blood cholesterol.
Women in the study were aged 37 years on average, the average age of a heart disease diagnosis was 50.3, and the average age for diagnosis with a risk factor for heart disease was 46.8.
Researchers found women who stuck to all six healthy lifestyle practices had a 92 per cent lower risk of heart attack and a 66 per cent lower risk of developing a risk factor for heart disease.
The researchers said the lower risk would mean three-quarters of heart attacks and nearly half of all risk factors in younger women may have been prevented if all of the women had followed the six healthy lifestyle factors.
For women who were diagnosed with a risk factor, adherence to at least four of the healthy lifestyle factors was associated with a significantly lower risk of going on to develop heart disease when compared to those who did not follow any of the healthy lifestyle practices.
Not smoking, adequate physical activity (in the UK, adults are urged to do 150 minutes of activity a week), better diet, and lower Body Mass Index were each independently associated with a lower risk for heart disease.
The advice has become increasingly familiar from other research that shows staying slim, eating lots of fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, never smoking, and drinking in moderation is the recipe for longevity.
The extra rule about limiting TV viewing to an hour a day has been reinforced by Spanish research showing that too much TV watching can double the risk of dying early.
Researchers believe too much sitting – as opposed to insufficient activity – may be a new risk factor for premature death and illness such as diabetes and heart disease.
In the latest study, women who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol – around one drink per day on average – saw the lowest risk compared to those who did not drink at all and those who drank more.
Professor Chomistek said: ‘This is an important public health message.
‘Women should begin following these lifestyle practices early in life, especially if they are already taking medication for a risk factor such as hypertension or high cholesterol.
‘It’s an easy way to prevent future heart trouble.’
Previous US research found regular exercise, eating a Mediterranean-style diet, keeping a normal weight and, most importantly, not smoking were key healthy habits to stave off heart disease and premature death.