Baltimore - Daily Mail - Four healthy habits can protect you from heart disease and prolong your life, claim researchers. They found simple lifestyle changes can boost health and cut the risk of death from all causes by 80 per cent over an eight-year period.

Regular exercise, eating a Mediterranean-style diet, keeping a normal weight and, most importantly, not smoking are the key healthy habits, say US experts.

A large study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, found a significant link between lifestyle factors and heart health over a relatively short period of time.

Lead researcher Haitham Ahmed, of the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins, said ‘To our knowledge, this is the first study to find a protective association between low-risk lifestyle factors and early signs of vascular disease, coronary heart disease and death, in a single longitudinal evaluation. ‘We evaluated data on more than 6,200 men and women, age 44-84, from white, African-American, Hispanic and Chinese backgrounds.

‘All were followed for an average of 7.6 years. Those who adopted all four healthy behaviours had an 80 per cent lower death rate over that time period compared to participants with none of the healthy behaviours.’ Those taking part in the study were recruited from six academic medical centres and did not have a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.

All participants had coronary calcium screening using computed tomography (a CT scan) when they were first enrolled in the study to see if there were early signs of calcium deposits in their heart arteries that are known to contribute to heart attack risk.

As the study progressed, the researchers also assessed whether the participants had a heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, chest pain, angioplasty or died due to coronary heart disease or other causes.