Losing weight, giving up the smoking habit, lowering cholesterol and taking an aspirin a day are some of the prevention efforts that could cut heart attacks in the United States by 36 percent and strokes by 20 percent in the next three decades, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
The joint study combined the resources of the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society. It concluded that if 156 million adults in the United States took better care of themselves, the average American would live 1.3 years longer, and the number of heart attacks would fall by 63 percent.
"Prevention makes a difference," said study co-author Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, chief science officer of the American Heart Association. "You can live longer, maybe substantially longer, and you can have a much healthier life."
The study was based on a mathematical model and used data from a national survey of health and nutrition to project the effects of prevention efforts on the entire U.S. population over a 30-year period.
The report has emerged from a wealth of studies that suggest people can make healthy changes to their lifestyles to improve their health and prolong their lives.
Some measures that have the maximum heart health impact come from taking low-dose aspirin, controlling pre-diabetes, weight loss in the obese, lowering blood pressure in people with diabetes, and lowering low-density lipid cholesterol, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, in people who already have coronary artery disease.
The health gains projected in the study are entirely hypothetical because the study is an exercise designed to measure scenarios in which millions of Americans stopped doing things that are bad for them.
The researchers assumed that all those Americans -- 156 million of them -- managed to stop smoking, lose weight, and control other risk factors. Then they used a statistical model to predict what would happen.
The study looked at another scenario, considered "more feasible". It assumed that if a smaller numbers of people started taking better care of themselves, it would lead to 20 percent of obese people losing enough weight to stop being clinically obese, and 30 percent of smokers would quit smoking.
Under that scenario, the number of heart attacks would fall by 36 percent and strokes by 20 percent.
"You really prevent serious things," Dr. Robertson said. "If you prevent those, then that person is healthier, so they're able to engage in the things they like doing. They live to see their daughter get married or get their kids through graduation, all the things that are stolen away."
The findings are to be published in both the July 29 issue of the journal Circulation and the August issue of Diabetes Care.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 24 million people in the US have diabetes, which is the seventh-leading cause of death.