NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - There's yet another reason for women to stay fit, eat healthy, abstain from smoking and maintain their weight at a healthy level: those who do so may be less likely to die from sudden cardiac death, a U.S. study said.
Each of the different factors -- a Mediterranean-style diet, a healthy weight, not smoking and exercise -- were linked to a smaller chance of sudden cardiac death, which is related to a malfunctioning of the electrical rhythm of the heart, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association said.
Added together, the factors were tied to a 92 percent reduced risk.
"The more you adhere to this healthy lifestyle, the better you are in terms of your risk of sudden cardiac death," said Stephanie Chiuve from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the lead author of the study.
Sudden cardiac death is responsible for half of all cardiac deaths, with about 250,000 to 310,000 cases occurring annually in the United States, the authors write.
Chiuve and her colleagues looked at results from the Nurses' Health Study, in which more than 81,000 women periodically answered surveys about their health and lifestyle over 26 years.
During the span of the study, 321 women suffered sudden cardiac death at an average age of 72.
Women who ate a diet closest to the Mediterranean diet, which has a high proportion of vegetables, fruits, nuts, omega-3 fats, and fish, along with moderate amounts of alcohol and small amounts of red meat, had the lowest risk of sudden cardiac death -- 40 percent less than those whose diets least resembled the Mediterranean diet.
Normal-weight women were 56 percent less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death compared to obese women, while at least 30 minutes a day of exercise reducing the risk by 28 percent.
Women who had never smoked were 75 percent less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than women who smoked at least 25 cigarettes per day.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, did not look at how long women stuck to each of the healthier lifestyle factors, nor was it able to prove that healthy living is actually responsible for the drop in sudden cardiac death risk.
But the researchers did conclude that 81 percent of cases of sudden cardiac death were due to unhealthy lifestyles.
Chiuve said the results were important for understanding who is at risk from sudden cardiac death. Most people are flagged as being at high risk because of other health problems, such as a past heart attack.
"But with sudden cardiac death, the majority (of cases) occur in the general population. Lifestyle is not something that's generally focused on in sudden cardiac death research," she told Reuters Health.
And a side-benefit of lifestyle-based efforts to prevent sudden cardiac death, a rare condition, are the positive impact it can have on more common health problems, such as diabetes, stroke and coronary disease, she added.
Reporting by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies