WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The American Heart Association created a simple checklist, Life’s Simple 7, to help promote heart health in Americans. A recent study evaluated the effectiveness of these guidelines, and found that people who stick to these simple yet effective suggestions reaped big benefits for their cardiovascular health.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Leading a healthy lifestyle is the single biggest factor in lowering your risk for heart failure. Modifiable risk factors (risk factors that you can control), such as high blood pressure, diabetes, level of physical activity, obesity and smoking play a major role in developing heart failure, a progressive condition that arises when your heart is unable to pump blood as well as it should be to meet your body’s need for oxygen.1 This inability to supply enough oxygen to the body results in the heart needing to work harder to keep up with its workload. This chronic stress on the heart causes the heart to make up for the inefficiency by becoming larger, developing more muscle mass, and pumping faster.
These changes can mask heart failure and provide a temporary fix, but are not sustainable long-term solutions. As the heart begins to tire of this extra workload, a person will become fatigued and experience difficulty breathing before the condition is diagnosed and treated. It’s estimated that nearly 6 million Americans are currently living with heart failure; by 2030, that number is anticipated to exceed 8 million.2
PROMOTING HEART HEALTH
To encourage Americans to proactively strive towards optimal cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association created guidelines called Life’s Simple 7. These guidelines consist of a set of seven (7) behaviors and risk factors that can help mitigate the risk of developing heart failure. Here’s the list:
- Abstinence from smoking
- Ideal weight
- Regular physical activity
- A healthy diet
- Controlled cholesterol
- Managed blood pressure
- Absence of diabetes
These components were chosen because they are the greatest indicators of overall cardiovascular health. Striving to maintain each of these behaviors and avoiding these risk factors enhances a person’s health overall, in addition to benefiting her/his heart.
The study included just over 3,200 Americans who participated for up to 12 years. This is important to note because longer duration studies enable researchers to monitor and evaluate individuals through their lifespan. Tracking their health outcomes is invaluable for understanding the development, progression and treatment of diseases and disorders. This type of study provides valuable insight into the best ways to promote health, as well as healthy/ unhealthy lifestyle and environmental factors. This study did just that; it demonstrated that following the Life’s Simple 7 guidelines helped lower the risk of heart failure. For each one-point higher score on the checklist, people had a 23% lower risk of heart failure. The study also found that those who scored in the bottom third fared the worst, those in the middle third reduced their risk by nearly half, and those at the top third reduced their risk even more!
It’s so important to take responsibility for your health, and one important way to do so is by making routine check-ups with your doctor to monitor blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The other factors, maintaining a healthy diet and weight and doing regular physical activity, are behaviors that you can continue to improve today. We recommend filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables during every meal and snack as well as engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity for 30 minutes most days of the week. Together, these factors will significantly contribute to your physical and mental health.
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