NEW ORLEANS – Breakfast anyone? It’s the little things that matter, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. If your goal is a healthier heart, recent research strongly encourages you to turn off the TV in the morning before you miss the chance to reach that goal with a proven heart-healthy breakfast.
A two-part study presented by researchers from National and Kapodistrian University in Greece provides strong evidence that spending more time eating a high-energy breakfast plus less time watching TV equals less plaque and artery stiffness. This means a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
“Environmental and lifestyle factors are important but underestimated risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” says lead author Dr. ir. Sotirios Tsalamandris, cardiologist at the University’s First Cardiology Clinic, in an edition of the American College of Cardiology. “These two studies emphasize the many factors that influence heart disease and the need for holistic preventive approaches.”
Researchers looked at the heart health signs of 2,000 people from Corinthia, Greece, who ranged in age from 40 to 99 years old, with an average age of 63 years. The participants were both healthy individuals and people with established heart disease or cardiovascular risk factors. Participants completed detailed questionnaires about eating habits and physical activity levels. In addition, two non-invasive tests provided information about the condition of their arteries, including the extent of atherosclerosis.
For the activity level part of the study, participants were placed in one of three groups based on their questionnaire responses about television or video viewing hours per week: low (seven or fewer hours), moderate (seven to 21 hours) or high (more than 21 hours).
Researchers found that participants in the group with a high viewing density had almost twice as much chance of developing platelets as those in the group where little TV is watched, after taking into account heart conditions and cardiovascular risk factors.
“Our results emphasize the importance of avoiding prolonged periods of sedentary behavior,” Tsalamandris says. “These findings suggest a clear message to press the ‘off’ button on your TV and leave your couch. Even low-energy activities, such as social contacts with friends or household activities, can provide a significant health benefit compared to the time you spend sitting and watching TV. “
The results also showed a correlation between sedentary lifestyle and other cardiovascular risk factors, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants who watched more than 21 hours of TV per week were 50 percent more likely to have diabetes and 68 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than those who had watched seven hours or less.
With results that show there are clinical benefits for low energy activities, Tsalamandris recommends doing some kind of recreational activities, treadmill training, weightlifting, or stretching bands while watching TV.
In the breakfast component of the study, participants were classified into one of three groups based on their answers about daily calorie intake at breakfast. For the study, a high-energy breakfast is considered a breakfast that contains at least 20 percent of the daily calories, while a low-energy breakfast yields 5 to 20 percent of the daily calories. Skipping breakfast is eligible for less than 5 percent of the daily calories.
Few participants fell into the high-energy breakfast group. Only 240 people regularly reported that they ate a high-energy breakfast. These breakfast menus usually contain items such as milk, cheese, cereal, bread and honey. Less than 900 participants consumed an energy-efficient breakfast with coffee, skimmed milk, buttered bread, honey, olives or fruit.
About 680 participants reported that they completely skip breakfast.
The results should stimulate larger and better morning meals. Those who ate an energy-rich breakfast had significantly healthier arteries than those who ate smaller breakfasts or were completely skipped. Test results measured the stiffness of the arteries in an average of 8.7 percent of those who ate a high-energy breakfast. With an energy-efficient breakfast, that number rose to 9.5 percent. Skipping breakfast doubled it to 15 percent.
Plaque construction followed a similar but not so dramatic pattern. For those who ate an energy-rich breakfast, the plaque level was on average around 18 percent, while for an energy-efficient breakfast they reached 26 percent and for those who skipped breakfast up to 28 percent.
“A high-energy breakfast must be part of a healthy lifestyle,” Tsalamandris says. “Eating a breakfast that accounts for more than 20 percent of the total daily calorie intake may be of the same or even greater importance than the specific diet of a person, such as whether it follows the Mediterranean diet, a low-fat diet or a different diet “
Speaking of specific diets, study authors warn that because most of their participants usually follow a Mediterranean diet, it is hard to know how the findings would relate to other diet.
Researchers also say that because this study was strictly observational, this did not necessarily prove to be the cause and effect between lifestyle choices and improved heart health. But based on previous studies, they offer two possible explanations for the outcomes: people who eat healthier breakfasts are likely to generally eat healthier and have fewer unhealthy habits such as a sedentary lifestyle and smoke than people who don’t eat breakfast. The second possibility is that the specific food that is eaten in high-calorie breakfast, such as dairy products, can improve heart health.
Researchers plan to follow the health outcomes of these study participants longitudinally for another 10 years, with a focus on the effects of environmental exposure.
Study findings were presented at the 68th annual scientific session of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans.