Lifestyle Habits May Lower Lifetime Risk of Heart Failure in Men

Heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump sufficient blood to meet the needs of the organs and tissues of the body. Common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath with exertion or when laying down, fatigue or weakness, and lightheadedness or fainting. Most often heart failure is caused by the cumulative effect of stresses on the heart. Common contributors include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and valve or heart muscle disease. Almost 700,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed every year.

Researchers from Boston reviewed data collected from the Physician Health Study to look for any connection between lifestyle choices and heart failure. The study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association, found that men with certain healthy lifestyle habits had less lifetime risk of heart failure.

About the Study

The Physicians Health Study is a large, ongoing cohort study that has observed the habits and health outcomes of male physicians over an average of 22 years. The study is following about 20,900 men, with an average age of 54 years, who were healthy at the start of the study. In this case, the researchers noted that there were 1,200 new cases of heart failure and that 40-year-old men had an average 13.8% lifetime risk of developing the condition. They observed lower rates of heart failure in men who:

  • Maintained a normal body weight
  • Never smoked
  • Exercised regularly
  • Drank alcohol moderately
  • Consumed breakfast cereals regularly
  • Consumed fruits and vegetables regularly

Men that did not follow any of the lifestyle habits listed above had a 21.2% lifetime risk of heart failure, while men that adhered to at least four of the habits had a 10.1% lifetime risk.

How Does This Affect You?

In a cohort study, researchers observe participants as they live, and they do not attempt to influence any factors that may affect the health outcome of interest. Later, they try to control for these factors in the analysis of their observations. Since researchers are not able to account for every relevant factor, they are unable to establish cause and effect relationships between, in this case, lifestyle habits and heart failure. Nevertheless, given its large size and long duration, this study strongly suggests that adopting as many of these habits as possible is a worthwhile thing to do. Indeed, numerous previous studies generally support this conclusion.

Heart failure is a serious and often irreversible condition, but many of the conditions that cause it can be prevented or managed. Work with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol level. Then, the rest is up to you. The good news is that you need not take on all six health habits to reduce your risk of heart failure. Start with small steps like adding a cereal with fiber and some fruit to your morning routine or scheduling consistent time to exercise on most days of the week. These efforts, in turn, will also help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. The factors that lead to heart failure build gradually over time, so start now for a longer, healthier life.


American Heart Association


Djousse et al. Relation between modifiable lifestyle factors and lifetime risk of heart failure. JAMA .2009; 302: 394-400.
Last reviewed August 2009 by Richard Glickman-Simon, MD
Last Updated: 8/19/2009

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