Heart disease is often considered a “man’s disease.” However, the same number of women and men die as a result of this condition each year in the United States. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has revealed that around three out of every four women can prevent heart disease by practicing healthier lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, watching less TV, and consuming less alcohol.

"Although mortality rates from heart disease in the U.S. have been in steady decline for the last four decades, women aged 35 to 44 have not experienced the same reduction," Dr. Andrea K. Chomistek, lead author from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, said in a statement. "This disparity may be explained by unhealthy lifestyle choices. We wanted to find out what proportion of heart disease cases could be attributed to unhealthy habits."

Chomistek and her colleagues gathered data on 69,247 women, including 456 who suffered a heart attack and 31,691 who were diagnosed with one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high levels of blood cholesterol. Researchers defined healthier lifestyle choices as not smoking, a normal BMI, participating in 2.5 hours of physical activity per week, watching seven or fewer hours of TV a week, drinking one alcohol drink per day, and consuming a diet in the top 40 percent of a measure of diet, according to the Harvard School of Public Health healthy eating plate.

Women who practiced all six healthy lifestyle choices were able to lower their risk of suffering a heart attack by 92 percent and lower their risk of developing a risk factor for heart disease by 66 percent. The research team determined that three-quarters of heart attacks and around half of all risk factors in women could be prevented by adhering to all six healthy lifestyle choices. If a woman was diagnosed with a heart disease risk factor, practicing at least four healthy lifestyle choices significantly lowered her risk of going on to develop heart disease.

"This is an important public health message," Chomistek added. "Women should begin following these lifestyle practices early in life, especially if they are already taking medication for a risk factor such as hypertension or high cholesterol. It's an easy way to prevent future heart trouble."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four female deaths is attributed to heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. Key risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking. Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of these risk factors. Although findings from this study suggest adopting all six healthy lifestyle choices is the best way to prevent heart disease, researchers concluded that adopting at least one could still lower a woman’s risk for cardiovascular complications. 

Source: Chomistek A, et al. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2015.