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Articles February 2013 Issue

7 Habits That Really Do Protect Your Heart

As the calendar turns to February American Heart Month—you may be wondering if there’s really anything you can do to improve your heart health. Back in 2010, the American Heart Association introduced "Life’s Simple Seven," steps people could take to reduce their risk of heart disease. Now a new study reports that these lifestyle changes actually work: Over 11 years, people who met three or four of the heart-health criteria had a 55% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality than those who adhered to two or fewer.

Says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, "Making a number of small gradual changes towards lowering heart disease risk is a good and achievable goal."

The "Simple Seven" lifestyle factors are: 

- Get active (at least 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity, like brisk walking, five times per week).
- Control cholesterol (lower than 200 mg/dL).
- Eat better.
- Manage blood pressure (lower than 120/80 mm Hg).
- Lose weight (achieve a normal BMI).
- Reduce blood sugar (fasting glucose below 100).
- Stop smoking.

REAL RISK REDUCTION: Enrique Artero, PhD, of the University of South Carolina, and colleagues compared adherence to these lifestyle goals with risk of death from cardiovascular disease among 11,993 participants in the Aerobics Longitudinal Study, average age 46 at baseline. Their results, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, showed that the more factors a person met, the lower the risk of death from heart disease. For those who met five to seven of the criteria, risk was 63% lower than those meeting the fewest.

Hardly anyone in the study population met all seven criteria, however—only 0.2%. "There is definitely room for improvement," says Lichtenstein, "and this study shows a clear benefit for making these lifestyle changes. The emphasis should be on making changes in the right direction. The exact order of the tasks should be up to an individual and their physician."

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