American Heart Association Updates Cardiovascular Health Checklist
December 3, 2022
“Life’s Essential 8” is the American Heart Association’s (AHA) heart health checklist; it contains eight key elements that a person can follow to maintain and improve their cardiovascular health. The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one person dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease, making it the leading cause of death for American women and men alike. Taking steps to lower risks for developing cardiovascular disease is one of the best moves a person can make to protect their heart.
Life’s Essential 8
This year, the AHA added a new component to its list: sleep. This year’s list also takes into account contact with secondhand cigarette smoke and vaping, creates a new guide for eating healthily, adjusts its measurements for blood sugar and cholesterol, and scores each component to average an overall heart health score ranging from 0 to 100. The list tackles two distinct areas of heart health: health behaviors and health factors. The list includes healthy eating, fitness, quitting nicotine products, sleep, losing weight, cholesterol, diabetes, and blood pressure. We will take a closer look at each of the AHA’s key elements for maintaining and improving cardiovascular health below.
When it comes to healthy eating, the AHA recommends having a dietary pattern that includes the following:
- A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains and products comprised primarily of whole grains
- Healthy sources of protein, like plants, nuts, fish, seafood, low-fat or non-fat dairy, and lean and unprocessed meat and poultry
- Foods prepared with little or no salt
- Limited or preferably no alcohol intake
- Minimally processed foods
- Minimized intake of added sugars
- Using liquid, non-tropical vegetable oils
It is also important to maintain a physically active lifestyle, although only one in five adults and teens currently get enough exercise to promote adequate heart health. The AHA says that a reasonable exercise starting goal is 150 minutes (or two and a half hours) of heart pumping, physical activity per week. If you are trying to make improvements to your sedentary lifestyle, it is okay to take it slow! Just increase the intensity and duration of your workouts gradually over time.
Quitting smoking and/or vaping are critical components to promote a healthier cardiovascular outlook. If you are interested in quitting nicotine products, it is a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor to discuss all your options. Being overweight or obese are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is why it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Eating habits and physical activity are two effective ways to lose weight; you can check out the AHA’s resources on healthy food substitutions, cooking tips, and more on their website.
Sleep is another key element for heart health. According to the AHA, the amount – and quality – of a person’s sleep can influence their mood, eating habits, memory, internal organs, and more. Addressing your sleep hygiene is a good way to promote healthy sleeping habits, and data shows that technology is a major source for sleeping problems in both teens and adults. Here are some useful tips:
- Move your device as far away from your bed as you can
- Dim your device’s screen or use a red filter app at nighttime
- Set an alarm to remind yourself that it is time to go to bed each night
- If you have a bad scrolling habit, use an app-blocking app when it is bedtime
- Turn your notifications off by putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode
Cholesterol is not an inherently bad thing; it actually serves many purposes in the body, like building cells. When a person has too much cholesterol in their body, however, it can create major problems. Your doctor can perform a fast and easy blood test in order to determine if your cholesterol is an issue. If it is, there are many steps you can take to get it lower, like losing weight, eating healthier, staying active, and quitting smoking.
Diabetes and blood pressure are the last two key elements on the AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 list. Diabetes is a condition that causes the blood sugar to rise. Eventually, it can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease. If you are living with diabetes, the AHA can send you monthly science-based and heart-healthy tips to you directly. To learn more, please visit this resource page.
High blood pressure can cause an array of serious health problems for patients, including:
- Kidney disease or failure
- Heart attack
- Vision loss
- Sexual dysfunction
- Peripheral artery disease, or PAD
The best way to protect yourself against high blood pressure is to educate yourself, take precautionary measures, and to maintain healthy blood pressure levels or take steps to reduce your blood pressure if it is high. You can learn more about high blood pressure or any of the other key components on the AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 list.
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