Though a person's lifetime risk of developing heart failure is calculated as one in five at age 40, a new study has suggested that adopting a healthy lifestyle - including watching your weight, not smoking, regularly exercising and eating lots of vegetables - could greatly reduce the risk of developing heart failure.
It found that people who followed one healthy lifestyle behavior significantly reduced their heart failure risk, and each additional healthy behavior further decreased their risk.
Previous research has shown an association between healthy lifestyle behaviors and lower risk of heart failure in men. The new study is the first to find a similar connection in women.
Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La followed more than 18,000 men and nearly 20,000 women from Finland ranging in age from 25 to 74 years for about 14 years. During this time, 638 of the men and 445 of the women developed heart failure.
After taking into account risk factors for heart failure such as diabetes, high blood pressure and a previous heart attack, the study found men who smoked had an 86 percent greater risk for heart failure than the non-smokers. That risk jumped to 109 percent among women.
Overweight men had a 15 percent increased risk of heart failure, while overweight women had a 21 percent increased chance. That added risk surged to 75 percent for obese men and 106 percent for obese women.
On the other hand, the risk for heart failure dropped by 21 percent in men who exercised moderately compared to those who only got light physical activity. Among women, moderate exercise was associated with a 13 percent decreased risk.
High levels of physical activity were associated with a 33 percent decreased risk in men and 36 percent in women, they noted.
Eating vegetables three to six times per week was also associated with a 26 percent decreased risk of heart failure in men and 27 percent in women compared to those who rarely ate vegetables.
Engaging in all four healthy lifestyle behaviors decreased the risk for heart failure by 70 percent in men and 81 percent in women, compared to 32 percent in men and 47 percent in women who engaged in only one healthy behavior.
"Any steps you take to stay healthy can reduce your risk of heart failure," said lead author Gang Hu, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Chronic Disease Epidemiology Laboratory.
The research is published in the September issue of Circulation: Heart Failure.