A new study that followed nearly 70,000 women for two decades concluded that three-quarters of heart attacks in young women could be prevented if women closely followed six healthy lifestyle practices.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, followed participants in a study of nurses established in 1989, which surveyed more than 116,000 participants about their diets and other health habits every two years. Researchers from Indiana University, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed data on 69,247 of the participants who met the requirements for their study.

“Although mortality rates from heart disease in the U.S. have been in steady decline for the last four decades, women aged 35- 44 have not experienced the same reduction,” said Andrea K. Chomistek, ScD, a researcher from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and lead author of the paper. “This disparity may be explained by unhealthy lifestyle choices. We wanted to find out what proportion of heart disease cases could be attributed to unhealthy habits”

Healthy habits were defined as not smoking, a normal body mass index, physical activity of at least 2.5 hours per week, watching seven or fewer hours of television a week, consumption of a maximum of one alcoholic drink per day on average, and a diet in the top 40 percent of a measure of diet quality based on the Harvard School of Public Health healthy eating plate.

During 20 years of follow-up, 456 women had heart attacks and 31,691 women were diagnosed with one or more cardiovascular disease risk factors, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or high levels of blood cholesterol. The average age of women in the study was 37.1 years at the outset; the average age of a heart disease diagnosis was 50.3, and the average age for diagnosis with a risk factor for heart disease was 46.8.

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