Healthy Meal served with chicken salad and fruit

In How to Reduce the Risk of Sudden Death, I discuss how public health workers tend to work in their own separate domains. The tobacco folks rarely talk to the alcohol, nutrition, or sexual health folks, “with no apparent recognition that, far from being unique and separate, the behaviors they all address comprise a typical Saturday night out for large sectors of the population. This also blinds us to the importance of individual empowerment. We beetle away at micromanaging specific behaviors and ignore the key message emerging from the public health evidence base—that for the first time in human history we now know how we can take a measure of control over our own health and longevity.”

So much control, as addressed in my video Turning the Clock Back 14 Years, that we may be able to effectively turn back the clock 14 years in terms of mortality. But whether the benefits observed in those studies are the result of good, life-long health habits or can be achieved by those who make changes later in life needed to be confirmed.

And it was.

“People who newly adopt a healthy lifestyle in middle-age experience a prompt benefit of lower rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality.”

Researchers found that a switch in mid-life—that is, in our late 40s to early 60s—to a healthy lifestyle that includes at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise, and not smoking—results in a substantial reduction in mortality over just the next four years. This is surprising not only because the benefit appeared so quickly but also because the lifestyle changes were so modest. The findings emphasize that making the necessary lifestyle changes is extremely worthwhile, and it’s never too late to get with the program.

If we can get such dramatic benefits so late in life and in such a short amount of time, why can’t we just live lives of gluttony and sloth, and then just clean up our acts around 50 or so? Because it may be too late:

Our first symptom can sometimes be our last.

Sudden cardiac death accounts for more than half of all heart disease deaths. Hundreds of thousands of Americans just drop dead every year. Sudden cardiac death is the first manifestation of heart disease for the majority of individuals, particularly among women, meaning they had no idea they even had heart disease until they were literally dying from it. For many, their first indication of the presence of coronary heart disease is their demise. That’s why prevention is the key.

So, does prevention work? Women who don’t smoke, walk a half-hour a day, aren’t overweight, and eat a prudent diet—defined in the study as greater than average fruit, vegetable, nut, whole grain, and bean consumption—had a 92% lower risk of sudden cardiac death. When it comes to sudden death, an ounce of prevention is truly worth more than a pound of cure, because there is no cure for dead.

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About The Author's picture

NUTRITIONFACTS.ORG is a strictly non-commercial, science-based public service provided by Dr. Michael Greger, providing free updates on the latest in nutrition research via bite-sized videos. There are more than a thousand videos on nearly every aspect of healthy eating, with new videos and articles uploaded every day. was launched with seed money and support by the Jesse & Julie Rasch Foundation. Incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit charity, now relies on individual donors to keep the site alive.

Dr. Greger is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. A founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Greger is licensed as a general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition. Currently he proudly serves as the public health director at the Humane Society of the United States. Dr. Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

His latest book, How Not to Die, became an instant New York Times Best Seller. 100% of all proceeds he has ever received from his books, DVDs, and speaking engagements has always and will always be donated to charity. Dr. Greger receives no compensation for his work on

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