Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 611,000 people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet new research shows that about half of those deaths could be prevented if everyone made five key lifestyle changes. The study, titled “Cardiovascular Mortality Associated With 5 Leading Risk Factors,” was published this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
These five key risk factors are considered to be within a person’s control, the Harvard Health Blog explains.
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
By contrast, examples of heart disease risk factors that are considered beyond a person’s control include genes, age, air pollution, and buildings or neighborhoods that aren’t conducive to walking.
Cardiologist Dr. Gregory Curfman, editor in chief of Harvard Health Publications, states in the blog post:
“Since 1960, deaths from cardiovascular disease in the U.S. have been reduced by half. But we still have a long way to go. Further reducing the death rate by focusing on five modifiable risk factors is a critical goal for all Americans.”
According to Harvard, five of the most important changes a person can make to reduce heart disease risk are:
- Exercise often
- Eat healthfully
- Keep blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control
- Lose weight (for those who are overweight)
- Don’t smoke
If everyone made these changes, it would have prevented 54 percent of heart disease deaths in men and 49.6 percent of deaths in women in 2009 to 2010, the study estimates.
The study also estimated the heart disease risk for every state and the District of Columbia.
Mississippi ranked worst, with 477 heart disease deaths per 100,000 residents.
Minnesota ranked best, with less than half as many heart disease deaths as Mississippi — about 195 per 100,000 residents.
Even if Americans merely improved their modifiable risk factors to the extent that residents of the best-performing states (such as Minnesota) have, it would prevent about 10 percent of heart disease deaths, the study found.
To view the rankings of every state, check out the Harvard blog post.
Are you surprised to learn how heart disease deaths could be prevented by lifestyle changes? Share your thoughts with us in a comment below or on our Facebook page.