Cardiovascular disease has the highest mortality rate in the United States, and billions of dollars are given to pharmaceutical industries each year in order to combat and reduce risks.
Yet recent research on cardiovascular risk factors offers renewed hope and optimism regarding heart disease, demonstrating a number of simple life changes to implement in order to prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease. Changing behavior can significantly lower risks, even for those genetically predisposed to heart disease—though it has long been thought that these factors were outside one’s control.
Data gathered from four large prospective cohort studies, all of which tracked thousands of people for years, analyzed and assessed the relationships between various risk factors and heart disease. Researchers examined the ways in which lifestyle factors were associated with outcomes, including not smoking cigarettes, not being obese, engaging in weekly physical activity, and following a healthy diet. The final criterion was based upon recommendations including eating more fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and not eating sugar-sweetened beverages, processed foods, etc.
The cumulative lifestyle factors were all associated with a significantly decreased risk of coronary events, and those who followed all of them had a favorable lifestyle. The reduction in heart attacks, bypass procedures, and deaths from cardiovascular causes was 45%: a 47% reduction even among those with genetic risks.
These numbers are substantial; the risk of a coronary event in a decade was halved. The data demonstrated that lifestyle changes were as powerful, if not more powerful, than many drugs and pharmaceuticals that are recommended. While there were caveats, including the sample size and population’s race and ethnicity, the lessons imparted must encourage us to understand and internalize that genetics do not necessarily determine overall health.
Changes in lifestyle can ultimately overcome many of the hurdles and challenges posed by DNA and genetics. These alternations will also reduce risks of other diseases like cancer, and a healthier lifestyle can have enormous implications for many more people across the globe.
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