New Study Finds This One Everyday Activity Helps Prevent Stroke And Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer of people in the United States regardless of sex, race, and ethnicity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A person dies from heart disease every 34 seconds, and someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. Although the main risk factors of heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking, you can also be at risk if you don't exercise, drink excessive alcohol, lead a sedentary lifestyle, or eat an unhealthy diet.

According to the American Heart Association, you can decrease your risk of heart disease by managing your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, and managing your weight can also keep heart disease and stroke at bay. Researchers at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) found another activity you could do each day to prevent the likelihood of heart disease or stroke. In a press release about a study presented at this year's ESC Congress, researchers found that optimal sleep can help protect you from cardiovascular problems.

What is optimal sleep?

Researchers devised a sleep score based on five factors: sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night, frequency of insomnia, frequency of daytime fatigue, sleep apnea, and being a morning person. Participants scored a point on each factor to determine their sleep score. For example, participants were considered optimal sleepers if they often got 7 to 8 hours of sleep and were early risers but didn't suffer from frequent insomnia, daytime sleepiness, or sleep apnea.

The study measured the sleep score of more than 7,000 participants aged 50-75, finding that only 10% of them had an optimal sleep score. Every two years, participants returned for follow-ups where they reported their sleep quality and other health conditions. During the 10-year study, 274 participants developed coronary artery disease or suffered a stroke. After controlling other variables, such as age, sex, alcohol use, or body mass index, the researchers concluded that the risk of heart disease and stroke decreased by 22% for each point increase in sleep score. Those who were optimal sleepers had a 75% lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

"The importance of sleep quality and quantity for heart health should be taught early in life when healthy behaviors become established," study author Dr. Aboubakari Nambiema of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research said. "Minimizing night-time noise and stress at work can both help improve sleep."