Following the American Heart Association’s 7 steps for heart health also protects against cancer, according to a new study. In fact, following six of the seven steps—or all of them—cuts risk by an astonishing 51 percent, the researchers reported in the journal Circulation.
Adhering to even three of the steps—known as “Life’s Simple 7” trimmed cancer risk by 25 percent, compared to people who didn’t follow any of them, according to the study, which analyzed nearly 20 years’ of data from 13,253 initially healthy participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study.
The research adds to an earlier study of middle-aged and older people showing that following Life’s Simple 7 guidelines reduced risk of dying over the next five years by more than half. The steps have also been found to dramatically decrease risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading killer of Americans.
Why are the 7 steps so powerful? “These health metrics—which have also been called the seven essentials—all work together to reduce inflammation, which is known to trigger heart disease and also appears to play a significant role in cancer,” says Bradley Bale, MD, medical director of the Heart Health Program for Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas.
Life’s Simple 7 is comprised of seven health and lifestyle metrics that the American Heart Association (AHA) has identified as the best ways to prevent a heart attack or stroke. And now, the new study shows that adopting all of these habits can cut your cancer risk by more than 50 percent.
Get Active. Everybody knows that exercise is important, but nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended amount: at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, at least five days a week for adults; and 60 minute every day for kids. And you don’t have to join a gym to get the benefits. As I recently reported, many studies show that people who walk regularly live longer, have lower blood pressure, reduced risk for diabetes, and sleep better. What’s more, an analysis of more than 72,000 women, ages 40 to 65, found that those who took brisk walks for three or more hours cut their risk for heart disease by up to 40 percent.
Related: Build a Home Gym For Under $150
Control Cholesterol. Not only is high cholesterol a major risk factor for heart disease, but it may also up the threat of cancer, according to a 2012 study by University of Rochester. The AHA recommends taking action if your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher, saying, “High cholesterol can cause blocked arteries, and like a multi-car pile-up, one problem often creates another,” including high blood pressure, heart attacks, and kidney problems. Among the most effective ways to reduce cholesterol are cutting back on saturated and trans fats, eating more fiber, losing weight, and exercising more. If these measures aren’t enough, your healthcare provider may advise medication.
Eat Better. A healthy diet is among the best weapons to defend against CVD and cancer. A recent report by the American Institute for Cancer Research calculated that if we ate more fiber-rich plant foods—and less red meat—more than 64,000 cases of cancer a year would be prevented in the US alone. In February, the first large, randomized study of the Mediterranean diet reported that a diet high in oily fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables, olive oil and even red wine reduced overall risk for heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from CVD by 28 to 30 percent, compared to a low-fat diet.
Manage Blood Pressure. High blood pressure (140/90 or higher) is silent killer stalking one in three American adults. It’s the leading risk factor for stroke and greatly magnifies the threat of a heart attack or kidney problems Another 67 million Americans have blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89—a disorder called prehypertension that raises stroke risk by 55 percent and more than triples heart attack risk. If your blood pressure is in the danger zone, the AHA advises regular exercise, avoiding smoking, weight loss, and eating a diet that’s low in sodium and high in potassium, found in such foods as winter squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, bananas, white beans, lentils, halibut, salmon, chicken, tuna, and pistachios. In many cases, people with high blood pressure also need to take medication.
Lose Weight. Amazing, but true: A 2012 study found that when obese or overweight women shed as little as 10 percent of their body weight, their cancer risk fell. Other research shows that slimming down can cut your risk for at least seven types of cancer: kidney, pancreas, colon, esophagus, rectum, uterine, and, in postmenopausal women, breast cancer. If your BMI (body mass index) is 25 or higher, the AHA recommends that you eat less and move more. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can dramatically reduce blood pressure, which in turn will cut risk for CVD.
Related: 23 Diet Plans Reviewed: Do They Work
Reduce Blood Sugar. Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, but 7 million of them don’t know it. Another 87 million Americans, many of them undiagnosed, have prediabetes. Both conditions are extremely damaging to blood vessels, tripling or even quadrupling heart attack danger. To find out if you’re at risk, Dr. Bale recommends a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test. To avoid high blood sugar, adds Dr. Bale, “eat like a diabetic, so you never become one.” As I reported earlier this week, sugar-sweetened drinks have been linked to 25,000 deaths a year in the US from diabetes, CVD, and cancer.
Stop Smoking. In the new study, smoking was the top factor that boosted cancer risk. This deadly addiction is linked to more than 440,000 preventable deaths a year. However, the good news is that lungs begin to heal as soon as you snuff out the habit. To avoid or limit weight gain after you quit, try munching on a low-cal foods (such as carrot or celery sticks), drinking more water, and taking better care of your teeth. One reason why people overeat after quitting tobacco is a craving for “oral gratification.” Instead, brush for two minutes after each meal and snack. Use mouthwash twice a day and enjoy the clean sensation in your mouth. Quitting smoking cuts the risk for periodontal disease, brightens your smile—and could save your life!
Related: 7 More Reasons to Quit Smoking
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