Study: High-energy breakfast + less TV time = healthier heart, arteries

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 achieve that goal with a proven heart-healthy breakfast.

A two-part study presented by researchers with the National and Kapodistrian University in Greece gives strong evidence that spending more time eating high-energy breakfasts plus less time watching TV equals less plaque and stiffness of arteries. This means a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Environmental and lifestyle factors are important but underestimated risk factors for cardiovascular diseases,” says lead author Dr. Sotirios Tsalamandris, a cardiologist at the First Cardiology Clinic at the university, in a release by the American College of Cardiology. “These two studies emphasize the many factors that impact heart disease and the need for holistic preventive approaches.”

Researchers looked at the heart health markers of 2,000 people from Corinthia, Greece, who ranged in age from 40 to 99 years old, with an average age of 63. The participants included both healthy individuals and those 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 on the condition of their arteries, including degree of atherosclerosis.

For the activity level part of the study, participants were placed in one of three groups on the basis of their questionnaire answers 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 determined that participants in the high TV-viewing group were almost twice as likely to have arterial plaque buildup as those in the low TV-viewing group, after taking into account heart disease and cardiovascular risk factors.

“Our results emphasize the importance of avoiding prolonged periods of sedentary behavior,” says Tsalamandris. “These findings suggest a clear message to hit the ‘off’ button on your TV and abandon your sofa. Even activities of low energy expenditure, such as socializing with friends or housekeeping activities, may have a substantial benefit to your health compared to time spent 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 weekly were 50 percent more likely to have diabetes and 68 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than those who watched seven hours or less.

With results showing that there are clinical benefits to low-energy activities, Tsalamandris recommends doing some sort of recreational activities, treadmill exercise, weight lifting or  stretching bands while watching TV.

In the breakfast component of the study, participants were put into one of three groups on the basis of their answers about daily caloric intake at breakfast. For the study, a high-energy breakfast is considered one that provides at least 20 percent of daily calories, while a low-energy breakfast provides 5 to 20 percent of daily calories. Skipping breakfast qualifies for less than 5 percent of daily calories.

Few participants fell into the high-energy breakfast group. Just 240 people reported regularly eating high-energy breakfasts. These breakfast menus usually included such items such as milk, cheese, cereals, bread and honey. Fewer than 900 participants consumed low-energy breakfasts of coffee, low-fat milk, buttered bread, honey, olives or fruit.

About 680 participants reported skipping breakfast entirely.

The results should encourage bigger and better morning meals. Those eating high-energy breakfasts had significantly healthier arteries than those who ate smaller breakfasts or skipped out altogether. In test results, for those eating high-energy breakfasts, arterial stiffness was measured at 8.7 percent on average. With low-energy breakfasts, that number rose to 9.5 percent. Skipping breakfast doubled it to 15 percent.

Plaque buildup followed a similar but not quite as dramatic pattern. For those eating high-energy breakfasts, plaque levels averaged around 18 percent, while for low-energy breakfasts they rose to 26 percent and for those skipping breakfast to 28 percent.

“A high-energy breakfast should be part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Tsalamandris. “Eating a breakfast constituting more than 20 percent of the total daily caloric intake may be of equal or even greater importance than a person’s specific dietary pattern, such as whether they follow the Mediterranean diet, a low-fat diet or other dietary pattern.”

Speaking of specific diets, study authors caution that because most of their participants typically follow a Mediterranean diet, it is hard to know how the findings would relate to other diet patterns.

Also, researchers say that because this study was strictly observational, it does not necessarily prove cause and effect between lifestyle choices and improved heart health. But on the basis of previous studies, they offer two possible explanations for the outcomes: People who eat healthier breakfasts probably eat healthier overall and have fewer unhealthy habits such as sedentary lifestyles and smoking than those who eat no breakfast. The second possibility is that the specific foods eaten in high-caloric breakfasts, such as dairy products, might improve heart health.

Researchers plan to follow the health outcomes of these study participants longitudinally for at least 10 more years, with a focus on the impacts of environmental exposures.

Study findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session in New Orleans.

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