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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Love Your Heart, Love Your Colon?

Incidence rate ratios for colorectal cancer and lifestyle index points
Lifestyle makes an enormous difference in our heart health. We know that a commitment to regular exercise, following a Mediterranean diet, drinking alcohol in moderation, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking may lower our heart attack risk by 70 percent or more. But it may come as a surprise to learn that these simple steps can also reduce our risk of colon cancer by as much as 30 to 50 percent.

A group of researchers at the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark studied over 55,000 men and women ages 50 through 64 at baseline and followed them for nearly 10 years. At the outset, none had been diagnosed with cancer. The study was reported in the October 2010 edition of The British Medical Journal.

A point was assigned to each of five lifestyle factors: one point each for physical activity (at least 30 minutes daily), not smoking, alcohol use (seven or fewer drinks per week for women, 14 or fewer per week for men), waist circumference (35 inches or less for women, 40 inches for men), and a healthy diet. A healthy diet was defined as including at least 22 ounces of fruits and veggies daily, less than 18 ounces of red meat weekly, plenty of fiber, and less than 30 percent of calories from fat.

When all the numbers were tallied, each point contributed to a substantially lower risk for colorectal cancer. Even one lifestyle point reduced the risk of cancer by about 11 percent.  The researchers estimated that as many as 23 percent of the cases of colorectal cancer could have been prevented by following all five recommendations. That’s an awful lot of lives spared, tragedy avoided, and money saved. Add in the healthy heart advantage, and it’s hard to imagine a reason not to live the healthiest life possible.

The image above shows incidence rate ratios for colorectal cancer and lifestyle index points for men and women combined in the study cohort. The bars show the incidence rate ratios and 95% confidence intervals for the categorical analyses, with the group scoring 0-1 as the reference group. The line shows the linear association between the incidence rate ratio and the lifestyle index score.

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Tags: Risk Factors for Heart Disease

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.