University of Vermont

College of Medicine

Cushman Study Shows Small Lifestyle Changes May Reduce Risk of Death

Mary Cushman, M.D.
Professor of Medicine Mary Cushman, M.D. (photo by Raj Chawla, UVM Med Photo)

Even a small change would go a long way in improving cardiovascular health and reducing deaths, according to a new study presented November 16, 2011 by Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., University of Vermont College of Medicine professor of medicine, at the American Heart Association’s 2011 Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Fla.

The study followed 17,820 adults without vascular disease for 4.6 years. Cushman and research colleagues analyzed the impact of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 behavioral/lifestyle plan risk of death.

The seven parts of the program are designed to help participants improve their blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and body mass index (BMI), quit smoking, increase physical activity and adopt a healthy diet. Participants’ adherence to the plan was scored as poor (1 point), intermediate (2 points) or ideal (3 points). The researchers found that overall risk of death was reduced by 14 percent for each 1-unit improvement in Simple 7 score and the risk was 21 percent lower when they looked at each 1-unit better score for BMI, smoking, physical activity or diet categories. Thus, a small improvement (poor to intermediate or intermediate to ideal) for even just one part of Life’s Simple 7 score was associated with substantial reduction in 4.6-year “all-cause mortality” – the mortality rate for a population across all causes.

The AHA’s 2020 goal, announced in January 2010, is “to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.” This novel goal, which focuses on preventing heart disease and stroke by helping people identify and adopt healthier lifestyle choices, features a new definition of cardiovascular health, with the entire spectrum of health defined in one of three categories: ideal, intermediate and poor.

“The impact of achieving the 2020 goal would be large if even 20 percent of the population improved by one level of the metric,” says Cushman.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

(The information in this release was provided by the American Heart Association.)