A visitor to this page posed an interesting question: Can you quantify the benefits you say will accrue from reducing heart health risks like smoking, lack of exercise and a high-fat/high-cholesterol diet?
As a matter of fact, we can. The National Institutes of Health funded a study several years ago that did just that.
According to their findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, here’s the degree to which each of the assessed lifestyle changes, taken individually would reduce your risk of a heart attack:
- If you stop smoking, you will reduce your heart attack risk 50 to 70 percent within five years, compared with current smokers.
- If you exercise regularly, your heart attack risk is 45 percent lower than those who lead sedentary lives.
- If you maintain your ideal weight, you have a 35 to 55 percent lower heart attack risk than those who are 20 percent or more overweight.
- If you consume the equivalent of one beer, one glass of wine or one highball a day, your heart disease risk is 25 to 45 percent lower than that of nondrinkers. (Excessive alcohol consumption, however, increases your heart disease risk).
- If you are a woman, postmenopausal estrogen replacement therapy will lower your risk 44 percent, compared with nonusers. (There are, as yet, no figures for combined estrogen-progestin therapy).
- For each one percent reduction in your blood cholesterol levels, your heart attack risk decreases two to three percent. (With diet therapy, the average cholesterol level reduction is 10 percent, and can often exceed 20 percent with diet and medication).
- Each one-point (I mm Hg) decrease in your diastolic blood pressure produces a two to three percent decline in heart disease risk. (With diet and medication, the average decrease in diastolic pressure is 5 to 6 points, though decreases of 20 points or more are frequently achieved.)
- Taking one low-dose aspirin tablet a day lowers your risk 33 percent, compared with non-users. (These figures are for men. Comparable large randomized trials of the benefits of this therapy for women are still in progress.)
The Harvard and Dartmouth researchers who conducted the NIH study were unable to establish a benefit estimate for controlling diabetes, since the trials aimed at determining them were still underway.
Keep in mind that these figures treat each risk independently. The combined advantages of stopping smoking, starting to exercise and losing weight would almost certainly be significantly greater than the best individual effect.