A new study by Harvard researchers has found that adhering to a healthy lifestyle, including not smoking, exercising regularly, having a low body weight and eating a healthy diet, lowered by 92 percent the risk of sudden cardiac death in women.
The study, conducted by Stephanie E. Chiuve, Sc.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues, was published in the July 6, 2011 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Sudden cardiac death (SCD) [defined as death occurring within one hour after symptom onset without evidence of circulatory collapse] accounts for more than half of all cardiac deaths, with an incidence of approximately 250,000 to 310,000 cases annually in the United States,” the authors write as background information in the study. The authors also note that no prior studies have examined the combination of multiple lifestyle factors and risk of sudden cardiac death.
Using data collected as part of the Nurses’ Health Study, the researchers examined the association between a healthy lifestyle and risk of sudden cardiac death. A total of 81,722 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study from June, 1984 to June, 2010 were included in the study, and lifestyle factors were assessed via questionnaires every two to four years.
A low-risk lifestyle was defined as one characterized by all four of the following factors: (i) not smoking, (ii) having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25, (iii) exercising for a duration of 30 minutes per day or longer, and (iv) consuming a diet closely related to a Mediterranean-style diet (emphasizes high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and fish, with moderate alcohol intake).
During the 26 years of follow-up, there were 321 cases of sudden cardiac death among the women in the study (average age 72 years at the time of the sudden cardiac death event).
All four low-risk factors were significantly and independently associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death. Not smoking, exercising and eating a healthy diet each were inversely associated with risk of sudden cardiac death. BMI also was associated with the risk of SCD, with women having a BMI between 21 and 24.9 at lowest risk.
The study found that women at low risk for all four lifestyle factors had a 92 percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death when compared with women at low risk for none of the four lifestyle factors.
“The primary prevention of SCD [sudden cardiac death] remains a major public health challenge because most SCD occurs among individuals not identified as high risk,” the authors write.
“In this cohort of female nurses, adherence to an overall healthy lifestyle was associated with a lower risk of SCD and may be an effective strategy for the prevention of SCD,” the study authors conclude.
The complete study report for the Harvard Study is available in the July 6, 2011 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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