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Halving Heart Attack Risk

Three interventions that may cut one’s risk in half of dying from our #1 killer.

September 12, 2007 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to Shad Bolling


What about nuts? A whole handful everyday. Harmful, harmless or helpful? Not only helpful, a single handful of nuts a day may cut our risk of having a heart attack in half and may cut our risk of dying from heart disease in half as well. People who smoke double their risk of dying from heart disease so don't ever smoke. People who don't eat nuts everyday double their risk of dying from heart disease. So don't ever not eat nuts, unless of course you're allergic. The available evidence suggests that eating nuts may extend our life by literally years. Any kind of nuts? Basically all nuts except chestnuts and coconuts. Even peanuts should be considered nuts because of their nutritional profile even though the're technically not. So am I saying peanut butter will likely help us live longer? Yes!

Is there anything else besides nuts and not smoking that can just down and dirty cut our risk in half of dying from heart disease, the number one killer of both American men and women every single year since 1918? Yes. Vitamin X, also know by it's full name exercise. Briskly walking just a few miles a day, according to the Honolulu Heart Study, cuts our cardiac risk in half. Exercise is like choosing a healthy diet. Diets only work if we stick with them our whole life. Same with exercise, so we should pick something we enjoy and not be afraid to try something new. Water aerobics classes at community health centers or yoga, bike a scenic path, walk the dog, join a team. Use it as a stress reduction time. If you are more of an indoor person, watch TV or movie while jogging on a treadmill or pedaling on an exercise bike.

Now how much exercise do we need to do? Just like the change from 5 a day to 9 a day, the exercise recommendations have changed as well. In 1996, the Surgeon General called for 30 minutes a day. That's not what the science showed, but he didn't want to scare people off and didn't want to make it sound too extreme. He didn't think we could handle the truth. The same patronizing reason the target cholesterol is 200, not 150, which science clearly shows it to be. Authorities want to make things sound achievable. Well, you know, tell that to all the families left behind. Anyway, the Surgeon General's half hour a day recommendation was 10 years ago. Finally, The Institute of Medicine believed we could handle the truth. After looking at the data, recommnded 60 minutes a day, every day of what they call moderately intense physical activity like brisk walking. An hour a day may sound like a lot but when our bodies were evolving over millions of years all we did was basically exercise all day. Our bodies were built to move at a minimum of an hour a day. I think this cartoon says it best. "What fits your busy schedule better, exercising for an hour a day or being dead 24 hours a day?" Exercising regularly isn't just about living longer, it decreases our risk of developing dementia. You'll not only be healthier, you'll feel healthier. Your immune system will be stronger, youll sleep better, you'll have more energy, you'll speed up your metabolism, you'll work off the stress in your life and you'll improve your mood just by moving our bodies.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother videos on heart health. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

Check out my associated blog post, Eating To Extend Our Lifespan.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on heart health. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Fredrick Hahn

    Dr. Greger,

    I wish you’d answer the questions here:

    You say that you’ll answer questions, but you don’t. Why is that?

  • hunniliz

    Is there any advantage to exercising more than an hour per day, or is there a law of diminishing returns at some point. My husband and I walk 7-8 miles per day, 6 days per week. The walks are just over 2 hours. Would we get just as much benefit with a 4-5 mile walk.

  • Fredrick Hahn

    You’d get many more benefits from resistance training 2X per week.

  • Fredrick Hahn

    This video is completely ridiculous. Risk does not mean cause and effect. My god.

    • beccadoggie10

      You can wait the rest of your life and cause and effect may not be found. I suggest erring on the side of the precautionary principle when it comes to natural solutions, and ignoring drug propaganda.

  • Girlwholovestheworld

    Dr. Greger,
    I’ve been looking into soaking nuts, I hear this is better for you, do you know much about this?

    • Don Forrester MD

       I haven’t seen studies on soaking nuts. I can’t imagine that water would have an adverse effect on the nutrient value of nuts. I’m always open to changing my beliefs when confronted with good science. Since water is something we require the addition of water to nut should be beneficial. Although as they found out in a radio station contest in Sacramento CA you can die from too much water.

      • Girlwholovestheworld

        Here is one of many websites that said it may be better for us,

        • Don Forrester MD

           Thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading it. I’m not sure the science supports the hypotheses about enzymes and enzyme inhibitors but I was trained as a chemical engineer which makes me a pragmatist not to mention my 35 years in medical practice. If soaking nuts works well for an individual than I don’t care about the mechanism… go for it. Eventually some scientific study might will help explain. Take care.

          • Girlwholovestheworld

            You say you studied medical practice, did that involve nutrition?

          • Don Forrester MD

            In my medical school we had a 4 hour course on nutrition plus what was worked into other courses. Of course that was along time ago. The science is difficult to keep up with given the number of articles in nutrition plus traditional medical or surgical therapies. That is what makes Dr. Greger’s website so valuable. It has the articles that he cites available. 

  • Qpbd clean arteries

    why do Ornish and Esselston in the reversal of heart disease, eliminate nuts in the diet, if they are so good for heart health…

  • Eric Lindstrom

    Can you help me validate these numbers? I’ve been called out and would love to be more accurate.

    PS – We met at Summerfest this year and your talk blew me away!


  • Jim

    How about lifting or bodybuilding 1Hr. 3to4 times a wk. is this good for the body?

    • Psych MD

      So you are asking if increasing muscle mass and building strength is beneficial? Hmmm…..