We all know the basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle–maintaining a good diet and waist size, exercising, not smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation. But how healthy will they get you, exactly? A new study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology quantifies the effects of a healthy lifestyle and finds that practicing these behaviors can prevent four out of five coronary events in men.
Researchers looked at a study population of 20,721 healthy Swedish men between the ages of 45 to 79 and followed them for more than a decade, asking them about their lifestyle choices and behaviors from levels of physical activity to their smoking status.
Men didn’t have to stick to every healthy behavior to see results: Every good habit was associated with a reduced risk for heart attack. Eating a low-risk diet plus drinking alcohol in moderation was associated with a 35% reduced risk of heart attack compared to those in the high-risk group. When men combined even more behaviors, the protective effects soared. Men who don’t smoke and walked or cycled at least 40 minutes a day, exercised at least one hour a week, had a waist circumference under 37.4 inches, drank moderately, and ate a diet of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, fish and whole grains had an 86% lower risk of heart attack than those with high-risk behaviors.
It’s not all good news, of course. Only 1% of men in the study–and about the same amount of the U.S. population–keeps this kind of heart-healthy regime.