Higher Education May Cut Your Heart Attack Risk

Can the amount of education you have impact your risk for heart disease? According to a study in the journal Heart, the answer may be yes. Results from INTERHEART, a international study of 52 countries, found that low education (eight years of school or less)─not income or occupation─was the strongest link to heart attack risk. Study researchers analyzed data on more than 12,000 heart attack sufferers and more than 14,000 healthy adults the same age across all 52 countries, which included a mix of both wealthy nations as well as low-income countries, and found that people with low education levels were 31 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those with some education above high school level.

According to Annika Rosengren, M.D., professor of medicine at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Goteborg, Sweden, and lead author of the INTERHEART study, the association with education is probably due to a better knowledge of the causes of heart disease and how they can be avoided. In fact, the study found that higher rates of abdominal obesity and poor lifestyle habits, such as inactivity, smoking and lower intake of fruits and vegetables, accounted for about half of the risk associated with low education levels.

More research needs to be done to completely understand the role education plays in heart disease risk, but the study findings suggest that with economic development and higher incomes across a nation, the heart-health gap between those who are well educated and those who are less educated widens. "These findings suggest that improving education levels has the potential to partially prevent the rising epidemic of cardiovascular disease in developing countries, as it could lead to healthier lifestyles," wrote the study authors.

How to Stay Heart Healthy

Although some risk factors for heart disease, such as a family history or age, can't be changed, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to take control of your heart-health destiny, including:

  • Don't smoke

  • Stay active. Getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week can help you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other problems that put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

  • Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat sources of proteins and low-fat dairy products and low in saturated and trans fats, including beef, cheese and whole-fat milk.