TUESDAY, Sept. 13, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- A healthy lifestyle -- including not smoking, shedding excess pounds, exercising and eating lots of vegetables -- could ward off many cases of heart failure, a new study finds.
Researchers 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. ("Overweight" was defined as having a body mass index of 25 or more, and "obese" was defined as a BMI of 30 or more.)
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. Ramping up physical activity to an even higher level was 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.
Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body's demands for blood and oxygen.
"Any steps you take to stay healthy can reduce your risk of heart failure," said the study's lead author, Dr. Gang Hu, director of the Chronic Disease Epidemiology Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., in an American Heart Association news release. "Hypothetically, about half of new heart failure cases occurring in this population could have been prevented if everyone engaged in at least three healthy lifestyle behaviors."
Healthy habits had a cumulative effect, researchers said, meaning that the more people incorporated into their lifestyle, the greater the drop in their risk for heart failure.
When the study participants engaged in all four healthy lifestyle behaviors, for example, men had a 70 percent lower risk of heart failure and women had an 81 percent lower risk, compared to people who engaged in only one of the healthy behaviors.
The study is in the September issue of Circulation: Heart Failure.
The National Institutes of Health provides more information on heart failure.