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Healthy Lifestyle Benefits Heart After Cancer, Too

Dec. 29, 2021 — We know a healthy lifestyle can help prevent health issues — including cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes — but new research shows it may also lower the risk for heart disease and diabetes in people who already have had cancer.

In a large study published in JACC: CardioOncology, researchers found that healthy living significantly reduced the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes in a healthy population, and also lowered the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (T2D) in those with a history of cancer.

“These findings highlight the benefits of adopting a combination of healthy behavioral practices in reducing the risk for CVD [heart disease] and T2D complications among patients with and without prevalent cancer,” said the researchers, led by Zhi Cao of Tianjin Medical University’s School of Public Health in Tiagnjin, China.

Healthy living was defined by five things: not smoking, meeting guidelines for physical activity, following a healthy diet, moderate alcohol use, and moderate sleep duration.

That said, the connection to alcohol consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle should be taken with caution, says  Erin D. Michos, MD, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology and associate director of preventive cardiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who also co-authored an editorial published with the study.

Alcohol — even moderate use — is a risk factor for many cancers, as well as for atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heart rhythm, she says.

“Its use is not endorsed as a preventive strategy by the American Heart Association or the American Society of Clinical Oncology.”

The researchers examined the impact of healthy living on 432,000 people ages 40 to 70 years who were enrolled in the UK BioBank, a database of genetic and health information from half a million people in the U.K., between April 2006 and December 2010.

“The authors looked at a very large and well-established cohort with the UK BioBank, which is a really phenomenal resource,” says Stephen Juraschek, MD,  research director at the Hypertension Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “But [the results] are largely confirmatory with what we know about these healthy lifestyle recommendations.”

He says the next steps should be to find out how to roll out healthier lifestyle measures to the general population.

“How do we improve policies to promote healthier eating and healthier food choices in the supply chain, or to ensure people are less sedentary?” he says. “What can we do culturally to promote those kinds of behaviors?”

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