January 5th, 2015

Healthy Habits of Young Women Lead to Long-Term Health Benefits

It may seem obvious, but a new study shows that young women with healthy habits are less likely as they age to get coronary heart disease or go on to develop cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

Andrea Chomistek and colleagues analyzed data from more than 88,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II and who were between 27 and 44 years of age at the start of the study. The investigators used six criteria to assess the lifestyles of their subjects: smoking, body weight, physical activity, television viewing, alcohol consumption, and diet. Women who met all the criteria for a healthy lifestyle — nonsmokers, normal body weight, physical activity for at least 2.5 hours each week, minimum television viewing, moderate alcohol consumption, and a healthy diet — had almost no heart disease and low rates of CV risk factors after 20 years of followup.

When compared with women who met none of the criteria, these women had a 92% reduction in risk for coronary heart disease and a 66% reduction in CV risk factors. With the exception of television viewing, all the individual criteria were significantly and independently associated with improved outcomes. It’s worth noting that only about 5% of the women in the study met all six criteria. The results are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In an accompanying editorial, Donna Arnett, a former president of the American Heart Association, writes that although the findings of the study are hardly surprising, the “study represents another instance of the conceptual broadening of the CV public health discussion to trumpet the power of primordial prevention,” which means focusing less on “the things we should not be doing in our effort to prevent disease to the things we should be doing in our effort to promote health.”

Although young women already have low rates of CV disease, in recent years the increases in diabetes and obesity appear to have put a stop to earlier advances against CV disease in this group. “If there’s any hope of successfully convincing young women (and everyone else) not to smoke, to exercise more, and to eat and drink prudently, it lies in creating a world in which doing those things is the default option,” writes Arnett.




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