American Heart Association (AHA) staff and volunteers recently compiled a list of what they felt were the top medical research advances of 2015.
Among them were a group of four studies indicating lifestyle changes that included healthy habits could decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease while improving overall health.
“It’s not just diet or just physical activity,” Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, said. “It’s about a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a culture of health.”
One of the studies, published in October in the the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, focused on cutting saturated fats and replacing those calories in diets.
The study showed that the risk of heart disease decreased 25 percent when five percent of calories from saturated facts was replaced by an equivalent amount of polyunsaturated fats -- and by 15 percent when that same five percent was replaced with monounsaturated fats.
Replacing the fats with whole grain calories showed a reduction in heart disease risk of nine percent.
“It clearly supports our current dietary message to substitute saturated fats with unsaturated ones and debunks studies that don’t show a benefit of decreasing or replacing saturated fats,” Kris-Etherton said.
Another study, published in October in the AHA journal Circulation, showed that people should double or quadruple the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise to reduce the risk of heart failure. Those who did this, the study showed, cut their risk of heart failure by 19 to 35 percent.
“This shows that the minimum recommended is good, but much more physical activity is better to really have a potential impact to prevent heart failure,” Dr. Marie-France Hivert, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and chair of AHA’s physical activity committee, said.
An Australian study that published in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed there were benefits to be gained when individuals received text reminders about healthy lifestyle choices. In a six-month period, people who received these periodic messages had lowered their cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index. They also exercised more -- some even quit smoking.
“Having an option like text messaging that is not as resource-intensive but still worked in a large study is very encouraging,” Hivert said.
An August study, funded by the Coca-Cola Co. and published in medical journal Obesity, showed obesity could be reduced with less TV time, more exercise and increased sleep time.
“This shows that it’s not just one thing,” Hivert said. “All the pieces are important -- not just structured physical activity, but also TV and sleep time.”
Studies of healthy habits included among AHA's top research advances of 2015