Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death worldwide.
Nearly 50 percent of all U.S. adults suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.
And only a disheartening 20 percent have “optimal” heart health.
To help combat this growing problem, the American Heart Association (AHA) has created a checklist called “Life’s Essential 8” (for heart health).
And while I don’t always agree with their recommendations, I can stand behind some of the principles.
So, let’s take a closer look—along with how YOU can protect your heart… even when the statistics are against you.
1. Diet. The AHA is recommending the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating pattern. But this eating pattern is much too similar to the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Of course, they recently added a tool called the Mediterranean Eating Pattern for Americans (MEPA) to assess healthy eating. This is closer to the diet I recommend for optimal health, but it still allows too many carbohydrates and sugars.
Instead, as always, you should follow a high-fat, low-carb, Mediterranean-style diet (like my A-List Diet). This balanced diet is full of fresh produce, lean protein, and the healthy fats your body—and HEART—need.
2. Physical activity. The AHA reiterates the following recommendation: Aim for 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.
I do stand behind these guidelines. But I also understand they’re a bit aggressive.
And it’s important to remember that anything is better than nothing at all. Especially when heart health is concerned.
If you’re sedentary, start small… and gradually increase your activity. If you’re already active, well, keep up the good work.
3. Smoking. The checklist says to stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke from traditional tobacco/nicotine products and e-cigarettes/vaping products.
This is a no-brainer. I have reported on the harmful effects of these products in general and in regard to heart disease, specifically.
4. Weight/body mass index (BMI). A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is associated with better cardiovascular health. So, while BMI is an imperfect measure, it does indicate that maintaining a healthy weight translates to better heart health.
5. Lipids (blood fat). You probably already know how I feel about this metric. It’s overused and over-treated, thanks to Big Pharma. In my view, maintaining a good HDL to total cholesterol ratio and a low triglyceride level are key markers of heart health, without going into much detail.
6. Blood sugar. I agree that maintaining healthy HbA1c levels, the long-term blood sugar measure, is key. That’s because high blood sugar can damage your heart’s blood vessels, nerves, and overall functionality.
7. Blood pressure (BP). High BP (hypertension) is defined as anything greater than 130/80 mmHg and is detrimental to your heart. Just remember that pushing your BP too lowis just as dangerous.
In fact, I often pose the question: how high is too high… and how low is too low? These are judgment calls that doctors need to make on a case-by-case basis.
After all, guidelines are just that—guidelines. In other words, do NOT allow your doctor to treat you as a number. Every medical decision you make together should be tailored to your needs and your history.
8. Sleep. This is the newest guideline added to the list. (The AHA finally recognizes the importance of a good night’s sleep!)
As always, adults should aim for seven to nine hours of quality shuteye each night. This supports better overall health and fights specific health factors, including blood pressure.
Important at any age
Before I go, I should mention that this checklist was expanded in such a way that it can now be applied to anyone over the age of two.
And that’s quite sad. Because it suggests our health is going downhill much too soon.
But I hope you’ll look at it as a wake-up call: Make your lifestyle choices—and your grandchildren’s—a top priority for better health.
Until next time,
“Life’s Essential 8 comprises two major areas: Health Behaviors and Health Factors.” American Heart Association. (heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/lifes-essential-8)