Eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and keeping your cholesterol in check can all keep your ticker in tip-top shape. But taking these and other heart-healthy steps can also lower your cancer risk — by half — according to new research.
Medical experts at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago found individuals who follow the American Heart Association's “Life's Simple 7” steps for a healthy heart cut their risk of developing cancer by 51 percent. But benefits also accrue to those who take even a few of the steps, with cancer risk decreasing for each heart-healthy activity.
"We were gratified to know adherence to the Life's Simple 7 goals was also associated with reduced incidence of cancer," said Laura J. Rasmussen-Torvik, an assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago who led the study published in the AHA journal Circulation. "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."
Life's Simple 7 recommends the following steps for a healthy heart:
- Being physically active.
- Keeping a healthy weight.
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
- Keeping blood pressure down.
- Regulating blood sugar levels.
- Not smoking.
For the study, researchers tracked the health of 13,253 white and African-American men and women participating in the ongoing Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, launched in 1987 in four U.S. communities. Participants were interviewed and examined at the start of the study to determine which health factors they met or followed.
Two decades later, the researchers reviewed cancer registries and hospital records and determined that 2,880 of the participants developed cancer, primarily of the lung, colon or rectum, prostate, and breast. The results showed that participants who adhered to six or seven of the “Simple 7” factors reduced their risk of cancer by 51 percent, compared with participants who met none of the factors. Meeting four factors led to a 33 percent risk reduction and one or two 21 percent.
"We're trying to help promote a comprehensive health message," Rasmussen-Torvik said. "Quitting smoking is very important, but there are other factors you need to be aware of if you want to live a healthy life.
"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."
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