Study: Save Your Heart, Prevent Cancer

Julia Little  |  August 7, 2013

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America, accounting for one in four deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As such, it's no wonder national health organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) have developed initiatives to help individuals prevent and manage the condition. Most of the recommendations, like those outlined in the AHA's Life's Simple 7 plan, revolve around diet and exercise and aim to control weight and cholesterol levels to prevent heart disease and its complications. 

Although these plans help people manage their cardiac health, they may have multifold health benefits. A recent study published in the journal Circulation found that the AHA's Life's Simple 7 plan was also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer. Lead study author Laura J. Rasmussen-Torvik said she and her colleagues are "gratified" by the results, which she expects will be helpful for doctors going forward.

"This can help health professionals provide a clear, consistent message about the most important things people can do to protect their health and lower their overall risk for chronic diseases," said Rasmussen-Torvik, an assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. 

The seven recommendations may sound familiar to elder care providers helping a senior manage certain health conditions or anyone who is seeking a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity, a nutritious diet and a healthy weight are the first three recommendations in the plan, which also recommends maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, keeping blood pressure at a normal rate, regulating blood sugar levels and not smoking. The study found that following six to seven of the recommendations reduced an individual's cancer risk by 51 percent, compared with those who followed none of the recommendations in the plan. Study participants who met four of the factors had a 33 percent reduction in their cancer risk, and those who met just one or two had a 21 percent reduced risk.

"This adds to the strong body of literature suggesting that it's never too late to change, and that if you make changes like quitting smoking and improving your diet, you can reduce your risk for both cardiovascular disease and cancer," Rasmussen-Torvik said.

Seniors who are looking to make some healthy changes now can start by fitting a 10-minute walk into their routines each day. Those who live in an assisted living or retirement community may want to take advantage of on-site fitness classes like yoga and tai chi that are catered to senior abilities.

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