Life's Simple 7: Seven Goals for Good Heart Health

The American Heart Association knows that even simple, small changes can make a big difference in living a healthier life.

In 2010, for the first time, the AHA defined "ideal cardiovascular health" and identified seven health factors and lifestyle behaviors that support heart health. Known as "Life's Simple 7," these steps can help add years to your life and can greatly impact your quality of life and lifespan.

#1: Don't smoke
Smoking damages your entire circulatory system and increases your risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots. Smoking can also reduce your good cholesterol (HDL) and your lung capacity, making it harder to get the physical activity you need for better health. If you currently smoke, breaking the nicotine addiction will be very important to live a long and healthy life. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and smoking is one of our nation's top causes of early death. But your lungs can begin to heal as soon as you quit.

#2: Maintain a healthy weight
If you have too much fat—especially around your waist—you're at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes. Body mass index (BMI) assesses your body weight relative to height. If your body mass index is 25.0 or higher, you will benefit by bringing your number down below 25. If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, you are at significant risk for heart health problems.

#3: Get active
We all know that exercise is good for us, but nearly 70 percent of Americans do not get the physical activity they need. Regular physical activity increases the length and quality of your life. If you get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day (like brisk walking), five times per week, you can almost guarantee yourself a healthier and more satisfying life while lowering your risks for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Children need 60 minutes every day.

#4: Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet (foods low in saturated and trans-fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars, and foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables) you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy—for life!  Recent studies show that more than 90 percent of us fail to consistently eat a heart-healthy diet, putting more of us at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

#5: Manage blood pressure
High blood pressure—also known as hypertension—is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can injure or kill. It's sometimes called "the silent killer" because it has no symptoms. Approximately 90 percent of all Americans will develop hypertension over their lifetime and one in three adults has high blood pressure. Yet many people don't even know they have it.

#6: Control cholesterol
When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. If your cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher, you need to take action. Lowering cholesterol helps your whole body get adequate blood supply and keeps your circulatory organs functioning well. Your liver and your body's cells make about 75 percent of the cholesterol in your blood. The other 25 percent comes from your food.

#7: Reduce blood sugar
If your fasting blood sugar level is below 100, you are in the healthy range. If not, your results could indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes. The American Heart Association considers diabetes one of the six major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. When insulin resistance or diabetes occur along with other cardiovascular disease risk factors (such as obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and high triglycerides), the risk of heart disease and stroke rises even more.

What simple steps will you need to take to improve heart health?  Discuss these seven factors with your healthcare provider and ask for help in assessing your risk.

The American Heart Association offers an online assessment tool—My Life Check—that gives an overall health score and offers simple action steps you can take to live a long and healthy life. Visit www.MyLifeCheck.org today.

—Francesca Minas, American Heart Association