Ellen DeGeneres has laughed off the chest pains that had the paramedics at her Burbank, California, TV studio. But she was smart to seek help at the sign of heaviness in her chest and shortness of breath. Heart attacks are the number one cause of death for women in the U.S.
Dropping dead from a sudden heart attack is a preventable tragedy for the average woman. That’s because lifestyle plays a big role in determining which women do or don’t experience sudden fatal heart attacks. A large-scale study published in 2011 supports this claim.
The study followed 81,722 female nurses who were already participants in the “Nurses Health Study.” The newer study spanned 1984 to 2011. Its objective was to see if lifestyle behaviors influence whether or not a woman experiences a fatal heart attack or sudden cardiac death.
The study’s researchers defined sudden cardiac death as death that occurred within one hour of the victim first having heart attack symptoms. They identified four lifestyle habits that lower the risk of sudden cardiac death:
1. Not smoking
2. Maintaining a normal body weight
3. Exercising more than 30 minutes daily
4. Routinely eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains and fish and drinking alcohol in moderation
Every two to four years, the study’s participants completed questionnaires to report on their lifestyle and dietary habits. By the end of the 26-year study, 321 women had fallen victim to sudden cardiac death; their average age was 72.
The researchers found that if the women who died of sudden cardiac death had adopted low-risk lifestyles, their chances of being taken out by an unexpected heart attack would have been reduced to as low as 22 in 100,000. Viewed from another angle, of the women studied, those with none of the four lifestyle risk factors were 81 percent less likely to experience sudden cardiac death than those with all four factors.
According to the researchers, one problem with the study was the enormity of following so many people over so long a period — doing so is bound to be error-ridden. Another problem was that some women failed to report on their lifestyles. In addition, racial, ethnic and genetic differences probably influenced the participants’ likelihoods of experiencing sudden cardiac death.
Even so, the study brought home a reality that few would dispute nowadays: adopting healthy lifestyle habits prevents fatal heart attacks.
So if you’re worried about how to keep a heart attack out of your future, change behaviors that increase your risk of having one. For example, two precautions to take are limiting your daily work hours to eight and cutting back on the amount of red meat you consume. Taking these two simple steps may help stave off heart attacks.