By Dr. C. Michael Wright
Dr. Wright is a nationally-recognized, board-certified Cardiologist in La Jolla and developer of the LifeScore Program,
We all know that a healthy lifestyle can lead to positive changes in our lives – better weight, more energy, healthier heart and even a longer, happier life. Up until recently, though, many researchers were still unsure which positive lifestyle changes made the most impact to our overall health.
But according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, we now know the answer: smoking, diet, exercise and weight are the key factors for longevity and freedom from cardiovascular disease.
The NIH-sponsored study (Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis--MESA) followed 6,229 participants who were each assigned a “lifestyle score” up to a maximum of four points. The lifestyle score evaluated diet, exercise, body mass index and smoking status, awarding one point for each healthy result. Patients also underwent coronary artery calcium screening (a CT scan that quantifies the amount of plaque in the coronary arteries) with a subsequent follow-up scan 3.1 years later.
Incredibly, only 2 percent of the participants met all four healthy lifestyle criteria. But those who did had a significant reduction in mortality rates for all causes and a lower risk when it came to coronary heart disease and progression of coronary calcium score. Individuals who aced the lifestyle score carried an 80 percent lower risk of death compared to those with no healthy lifestyle behaviors.
"The benefits were cumulative, meaning the more healthy behaviors, the better," said investigator Dr. Haitham Ahmed (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD) in a statement to HeartWire. So if you maintained a normal weight and ate a healthy diet but weren't exercising, your outcome was proportionally worse than someone who also exercised regularly.
Of all unhealthy choices, smoking was the most devastating to an individual’s overall health. Even if all other healthy choices were maintained, smoking produced a worse outcome compared to someone who didn't smoke, and had no other lifestyle points.
4 HEALTH FACTORS: A CLOSER LOOK
Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, and current trends show that tobacco use will cause more than 8 million deaths annually by 2030 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, there are easier ways to quit smoking than ever before, so be sure to talk to a doctor right away to find out what course of treatment is right for you.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to reward your body with pure, healthy nutrients. Supplemented with other healthy choices such as garlic, fish, whole grains and plenty of fresh water, we provide our bodies the necessary energy to not only live, but live well. Consider talking to a nutritionist to make positive changes in your diet if you feel your menu is lacking.
The study concluded that an individual should, at the very minimum, get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking, or any other equivalent aerobic activity, on 5 out of 7 days, is all it takes.
Find your body-mass index to determine if you’re at a healthy weight. If not, shed those extra pounds to increase your chances at a long, healthy life while decreasing your risk of coronary heart disease. Talk to your doctor to determine the best route to a healthy weight.
For more information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, log onto
Ahmed HM, Blaha MJ, Nasir K, et al. Low-risk lifestyle, coronary calcium, cardiovascular events, and mortality: results from MESA.Am J Epidemiol 2013; DOI:10.1093/aje/kws453. Available at: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org.