Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Being heart-healthy can help prevent cancer: study

Adhering to a lifestyle that helps guard against heart disease also keeps cancer at bay, according to a new U.S. study.

About three years ago, the American Heart Association came up with a list of seven factors that are associated with heart-healthy lifestyle.

The list, dubbed Life's Simple 7, was introduced as part of a public education campaign aimed at preventing cardiovascular disease. The list includes:

Story continues below advertisement

  • Being physically active
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
  • Keeping blood pressure down
  • Regulating blood sugar levels
  • Not smoking

Of course, not smoking is clearly linked to a lower risk of cancer. But other heart-protective measures appear to keep cancer in check, too, according to the study published in the journal Circulation.

The findings are based on more than 13,000 American men and women who were part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. At the start of the trial in 1987, the volunteers were interviewed and examined to determine which health factors they met or followed. About 20 years later, 2,880 participants had been diagnosed with cancer, primarily of the lung, colon or rectum, prostate and breast.

The new analysis shows that those who lifestyle mirrored the Life's Simple 7 were less likely to develop cancer, said Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, an assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and lead author of the study.

"We found that following a larger number of these recommendations was also associate with a lower risk of cancer. And, in our study, individuals who followed six or seven of the recommendations had a 51 per cent lower rate of cancer compared to individuals who followed none of these recommendations."

Meeting four factors led to a 33 per cent risk reduction and one or two 21 per cent. And when smoking status was not considered, participants who met five or six of the remaining six factors had a 25 per cent lower cancer risk than those who met none.

Rasmussen-Torvik, noted that she is an epidemiologist and her study was not designed to look at how these factors might prevent cancer or try to evaluate which ones are more important.

"People who have a health diet are much more likely to have a low BMI and have their blood pressure under control. So it is a little hard to tease them all out," she said. "We just wanted to demonstrate that this health message, as a whole, was also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer," she said.

Story continues below advertisement

"This adds to the strong body of literature suggesting that it 's never too late to change, and that if you make changes like quitting smoking and improving your diet, you can reduce your risk for both cardiovascular disease and cancer."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to