NEDLANDS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA. Although deaths due to heart disease have declined substantially in Australia during the last 30 years they still account for over 40 per cent of all deaths. It is a well-established fact that many lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and smoking contribute to heart disease risk. Researchers at the University of Western Australia have just completed a study to pinpoint which modifiable lifestyle factors have the greatest potential to prevent heart attacks. The study involved 336 men (aged 27 to 64 years) who had suffered a first heart attack during 1992 or 1993 and 735 age-matched controls who had no history of heart attacks. All participants completed questionnaires concerning their diet and lifestyle; the heart attack group provided data relevant to the time before their attack while the control group provided current data. Analysis showed a clear protective effect of exercise and avoidance of salt and meat. Participants in non-vigorous exercise lowered their attack risk by 50 per cent and avoidance of adding extra salt to meals carried a risk reduction of 40 per cent. Participants who ate meat three to six times a week had a three times higher risk of suffering a heart attack than did men who ate meat less than once a week. Moderate alcohol consumption was found to be protective while smoking doubled the risk of having a heart attack. Being overweight, having high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, or being treated for diabetes were also potent risk factors.
The researchers conclude that simple lifestyle changes can materially affect the risk of suffering a first heart attack.
Spencer, Carole A., et al. Do simple prudent health behaviours protect men from myocardial infarction? International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 28, October 1999, pp. 846-52