Taking our doctor’s diet and lifestyle tips seriously may pay off decades later, a recent study published last February in the Journal of Internal Medicine suggests.

The study authors tracked down a group of once middle-aged men once enrolled in the Oslo cardiovascular study more than forty years ago. From 1972 to 1973, 16,203 Norwegian men, mostly between the ages of 40 to 49, were physically examined and evaluated for their future risk of cardiovascular disease. The 1,232 men deemed to be at high risk were then randomly shuffled into one of two groups: those who received five years of healthy lifestyle advice, such as cutting down on saturated fats or smoking and those who received no advice.

Because the original researchers kept tabs on the participants for as long as possible, the current authors were able to detail how their lives played out, healthwise at least. They found those given advice had a reduced risk of death from the first heart attack that endured for forty years when compared to the control group, and a decreased risk of death from all causes for eight to 20 years.

"Successful lifestyle intervention on diet and antismoking for five years in middle-aged men may give life-long benefits with regard to death from myocardial infarction," said lead author Dr. Ingar Holme in a statement.

When graphed against time, the researchers found that men who received advice experienced a degree of protection against heart attack death that steadily increased for the first fifteen years and then stayed level but still higher than in men who received no advice Aside from the aforementioned lifestyle tips, high risk men were encouraged to eat more fish and vegetable products, while those overweight were told to trim the pounds.

The findings are in some ways surprising since certain bits of advice, particularly that saturated fat consumption should be lowered, are now seen as too simplistic and possibly even flat out wrong. Recent studies have concluded that other components of a traditionally poor diet, such as refined sugar or trans fats, may better account for worsening heart health rather than the presence of saturated fats.

The current study doesn’t throw any of these newer findings out the window, since it’s more than possible that people given advice reduced their risk of early mortality despite having lowered their saturated fat intake, For instance, it’s possible the simple effect of being told to pay more attention to their health, regardless of how, led to the adoption of other healthy lifestyle choices. Though these sorts of studies can tell us whether a relationship between any two (or more) variables exists, they can’t directly tell us which one causes the other, if they even do at all.

Before anyone goes on a butter marathon, though, the current federal dietary guidelines recommend a moderate level of saturated fats, no more than ten percent of total daily calories.

The more relevant takeaway from the study is that a little advice goes a long way, a finding especially important with the new approaches to patient-doctor communication available today. Several studies have found that even text messages can promote positive behaviors. For instance, helping smokers trying to quit; reminding people to get vaccinated; and, much like the original study, encouraging at-risk heart patients to adopt healthier lifestyles

Source: Holme I, Retterstøl K, Norum K. R. , et al. Lifelong benefits on myocardial infarction mortality: 40-year follow-up of the randomized Oslo diet and antismoking study. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2016.