Smoking played a surprisingly small role, probably because its incidence was not high among the participants. "These were all physicians, so you would expect a smaller amount of smoking," Djousse said.
The women's study looked at the association between high blood pressure -- a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems -- and six lifestyle factors: obesity, exercise, alcohol intake, use of non-narcotic painkillers, adherence to a diet designed to prevent high blood pressure and intake of supplemental folic acid. All six were found to be associated with the risk of developing high blood pressure in the 14-year study, and the association was cumulative.
Women who followed advice on all six factors -- just 0.3 percent of those in the group -- had an 80 percent lower incidence of high blood pressure than those who followed none of the rules. The incidence was 72 percent lower for the 0.8 percent of the women who followed five lifestyle rules, 58 percent lower for the 1.6 percent of the women following four rules and 53 percent lower for the 3.1 percent of the women who followed three rules. As in the male group, obesity was the most important risk factor.
While the clear message of both studies is that "a healthy lifestyle prevents a number of illnesses," what is often overlooked is that the choice of a healthy lifestyle is not a purely individual decision, said Dr. Veronique L. Roger, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Mayo Clinic, who wrote an accompanying editorial.
"There is a shared responsibility between the individual and the community," said Roger, who read off a dictionary definition of lifestyle as "a typical way of life of an individual, group or culture."
"The reality is that society ha
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