Preventative measures best weapon against heart disease and stroke
November 30, 1999
Web posted at: 12:35 p.m. EST (1735 GMT)
(CNN) -- Though heart disease and stroke continue to be the first and third leading causes of death in the United States, the risk of both can be reduced with better health habits, according to reports in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The entire issue of JAMA is devoted to cardiovascular disease, offering new evidence that people who live right live longer, and suggesting in an editorial that good health habits are at least as important as medical breakthroughs.
Healthy habits, according to researchers, can help control high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Regular exercise, eating right, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are all recommended to keep cholesterol and blood pressure low.
Doctors at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago reported that people with low risk factors for heart disease did indeed enjoy a longer life -- six to nine years longer than those with higher risk factors. Their findings were based on studies of more than 350,000 adults age 18 and above.
"These findings are relevant for the national effort to end the coronary heart disease-cardiovascular disease epidemic," Jeremiah Stamler of Northwestern wrote.
"They lend strong support to the concept that a strategy
based on identifying, evaluating and treating people with risk
factors is not enough. For upcoming generations this means
encouraging favorable behaviors beginning in early childhood in
regard to eating, drinking, exercising and smoking," he said.
Only 5 to 10 percent of the U.S. population falls into the low risk category for heart attack. This low risk group was defined as having a cholesterol levels of less than 200mg/dL (milligrams/deciliter) of blood and blood pressure of 120/80 or lower.
Those with a low-risk profile had an 80 percent lower chance of death compared to those even at average risk of heart disease.
These low-risk adults also had a lower overall risk of death from all causes, the study found.
A separate JAMA study, which focused on the health impacts of dietary habits, found a diet high in sodium, or salt, increased the risk of heart disease death by 63 percent in people who were overweight.
Researchers followed a group of adults for 20 years and concluded the risk of heart attack and stroke was highest in people who consumed two or more teaspoons of sodium a day compared to those who consumed less than one teaspoon a day.
Too much salt is also bad for average weight people, according to previous studies, because it increases other risk factors such as blood pressure.
In addition to studies, JAMA's cardiovasular disease theme issue also included an editorial by Claude Lenfant, the Director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Lenfant suggested the race for new medications and genetic clues to disease may be overlooking simple preventative approaches.
"... physicians must not lose sight of perhaps more mundane but clearly effective approaches such as lowering blood pressure, reducing obesity and physical inactivity, and applying other proven therapeutic strategies in a timely fashion," he wrote.
Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland and Reuters contributed to this report.
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Northwestern University Medical School
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
American Heart Association
National Institutes of Health
Journal of the American Medical Association
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