Healthy lifestyle lowers risk of sudden cardiac death in women

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Women who don't smoke, have a body mass index lower than 25, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, and adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet, have a significantly lower risk of sudden cardiac death, a new study finds.

Women who don't smoke, have a body mass index (BMI) lower than 25, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, and adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet, have a significantly lower risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD), a new study finds.

The prospective cohort study followed 81,722 women in the Nurses' Cohort Study from 1984 to 2010, assessing lifestyle variables by questionnaire every 2 to 4 years. The researchers defined a low-risk lifestyle as maintaining a BMI below 25, exercising 30 minutes or more a day, not smoking, and having a Mediterranean diet score in the top 40% of the cohort (ie, high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish and moderate alcohol consumption).

During the 26-year follow-up period, 321 women suffered SCD (death within 1 hour of symptom onset without evidence of circulatory collapse) at a mean age of 72.

Women at low risk for all 4 lifestyle factors had a 92% lower risk of SCD than women at low risk for none of the factors, the authors observe. "If these associations are causal, 81% of SCD within this cohort may have been prevented if all women adhered to a low-risk lifestyle," they write. The study didn't assess how long women adhered to the healthy lifestyle factors, nor did it prove a causal connection between lifestyle and lower risk of SCD.

The researchers note that "79% of SCD may be attributed to unhealthy lifestyle practices" in women who haven't been diagnosed with coronary heart disease. Sudden cardiac death, which causes more than 50% of all cardiac deaths, most often occurs among such women.

Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Rexrode, KM, et al. Adherence to a low-risk, healthy lifestyle and risk of sudden cardiac death among women. JAMA. 2011;306(1):62-69.

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