Many factors can increase your chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke. While some of these risks are unavoidable, others can be mitigated by making simple changes to your lifestyle. One risk factor that is often overlooked is our environment.

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE recently posted findings on the environmental impact on health. Personal and environmental health data was collected from 50,045 poor, rural villagers living in the northeast Golestan region of Iran. All participants had annual visits with researchers dating as far back as 2004. All were over the age of 40 at the beginning of the study.

The study showed that exposure to above-average outdoor air pollution levels increased the risk of death by 20% and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 17%. It specifically found that one-third of study participants who lived within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of a major roadway had a 13% increased risk of death.

Using kerosene or wood-burning stoves (not properly ventilated through a chimney) to cook food or heat the home also increased the overall risk of death by 23% and 9%. Researchers also found that it increased cardiovascular death risk by 36% and 19%. Living far from specialty medical clinics and busy roads also increased the risk of death.

It’s one of the first studies of its kind to identify environmental factors that pose a risk to heart and overall health. It also adds much-needed scientific evidence from people in low- and middle-income countries. Previous research has mostly favored urban populations in high-income countries with much greater access to modern health care services.

“Our study highlights the role that key environmental factors of indoor/outdoor air pollution, access to modern health services, and proximity to noisy, polluted roadways play in all causes of death and deaths from cardiovascular disease in particular,” said study senior author and cardiologist Rajesh Vedanthan, MD, MPH.

Previous studies have found that environmental factors such as air pollution can affect risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking. However, this new study adds to the dangers by examining the relationship between the environment and the chance of death from heart attack and stroke.

Heart Health

This study adds to mounting evidence of how the environment can affect cardiovascular health. Still, whether you live near a polluted area or not, it is important to take care of your general health.

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