Women's Health Matters

Text Size
Jump to body content

Heart disease risk dramatically lower in young women with 6 healthy habits, study finds

Jan. 8, 2015

In almost three out of four cases, heart disease in young women may be preventable through healthy lifestyle habits, new research suggests. A study found that young women who had all six of the healthy lifestyle habits examined in the study were 92 per cent less likely to develop coronary heart disease than women who had none of these habits.

The six healthy lifestyle habits examined were:

  • not smoking
  • maintaining a normal body mass index (BMI)
  • getting at least 2.5 hours of physical exercise per week
  • watching a maximum of seven hours of television per week
  • limiting alcohol to seven drinks per week
  • eating a healthy diet, defined as the top 40 per cent of the group’s scores on the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010

Researchers led by Andrea Chomistek, ScD, at the Indiana University School of Public Health – Bloomington wanted to explore how many cases of heart disease in young women could be prevented with healthy lifestyles. The study notes that although mortality rates from coronary heart disease have declined over the past 40 years, one group in which the rate of decline has slowed is young adults. In young women ages 35 to 44, the mortality rate actually crept up by an average 1.3 per cent per year from 1997 to 2002.

The researchers followed 88,940 women from the Nurses’ Health Study II from 1991 to 2011. All the women were ages 27 to 44 when the study began, with an average age of 37. Every two years over the course of the study, the women filled out questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle habits.

Over the 20-year course of the study, 456 women either died of coronary heart disease, or had a non-fatal heart attack.

After analyzing lifestyle factors, the researchers found that women who achieved all six healthy habits were 92 per cent less likely to have a heart attack or die from coronary heart disease, compared to women who had none of the six healthy habits. The researchers also calculated how many cases of heart attack or coronary heart disease might be avoided if all of the young women in the study had all six healthy habits. They found that 73 per cent – nearly three-quarters – of cases might have been avoided.

However, only about five per cent of the study group had all six healthy habits.

The researchers also looked at which women developed the following risk factors for cardiovascular disease: diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Women who had these conditions when the study began were excluded from this part of the study, so 69,247 women were included in this analysis. During the study period, 31,691 women were diagnosed with one or more cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The results showed that women with all six healthy habits were 66 per cent less likely to develop one or more cardiovascular risk factors, compared to women with none of the healthy habits. The researchers also calculated that 46 per cent of these risk factors might have been prevented if all the study participants had all six healthy habits.

The study authors concluded that healthy lifestyle habits have great potential to reduce coronary heart disease rates in young women.

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on Jan. 5, 2015.

Jump to top page

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital