3 Odd lifestyle factors that might raise heart disease risk

Can how many babies a woman has determine her later risk of developing heart problems? How about whether we stay married or remain single? Cardiology researchers designed research studies around these and other bizarre questions to determine whether certain habits or lifestyle choices we make when we’re young will lead to heart attacks and strokes in our 40s and 50s.

They presented their findings on Friday at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in Washington, DC. Note: these studies haven’t yet been published in peer review journals where they’ll undergo rigorous scrutiny to determine if their results are valid.

1. Marriage protects the heart, a little. Researchers from the New York University Langone Medical Center examined medical records from 3.5 million people and found that married couples were 5 percent less likely to develop clogged arteries compared to those who never wed. Widowed and divorced folks, however were 3 to 5 percent more likely than single people to get heart disease. Thus, if you get married, stay married.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2. Women should have two or three babies. Having four or more kids moderately increases a woman’s odds of having early signs of heart disease by her early 40s. But so does having no kids or one kid, according to research presented by University of Texas Southwestern researchers. While it would be silly to draw practical advice from this study, it does highlight the need to further study pregnancy’s effects (both positive and negative) on the heart.

3. Eat your veggies in your 20s. Women who ate eight to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables in their 20s were 40 percent less likely to have signs of artery plaque 20 years later compared to those who had three or fewer servings a day, according to a Minneapolis Heart Institute study. Oddly, though, the researchers didn’t find the same protective effect in men. “Potentially fruit and vegetable intake doesn’t work quite as well in men as in women to protect their hearts,” said study leader and preventive cardiologist Dr. Michael Miedema. Or, he added, it could be that the 2500 person study —which included nearly 1600 women—didn’t include enough men to measure any small but significant benefits.