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Keep your heart healthy with Life's Simple 7

2/16/2017 by LaPrincess Brewer, MD, MPH


More people die every year in this country from heart disease than any other cause. Women are more likely to die from it than men, and African-American women are at the highest risk. But heart health is within your reach - and you don't need a personal chef or trainer or membership to a gym to achieve it. 

The American Heart Association has created a new approach to combatting heart disease - Life's Simple 7, seven steps for making a big difference in your overall health. These measures have one unique thing in common: anyone can make them, the steps aren't expensive to take and even modest improvements have a big impact. 

Here's the Life's Simple 7 list from the AHA:

  • Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys. 
  • Control cholesterol. High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. Controlling cholesterol helps keep them clear of blockages. 
  • Reduce blood sugar. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. 
  • Get active. Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life. 
  • Eat better. A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting heart disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy!
  • Lose weight. When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. Active living lowers your blood pressure and helps you feel better, too. 
  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. 

Recent research has shown that Life's Simple 7 can lead to not only better heart health, but also reduce rates of other chronic diseases. They rated participants' level of achieving the steps at poor, good and ideal. Those in the ideal category were found to have a: 

  • 20% lower risk for cancer
  • 62% lower risk for chronic kidney disease
  • 43% lower risk for pneumonia
  • 49% lower risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Less than 3% of Americans - and less than 1% of African-Americans - meet all of the Life's Simple 7 goals. But we all have the ability to change. You don't have to tackle all of the steps at once - start with one or two. Just remember that improving your heart health is a work in progress and can help you live your best possible life. 

LaPrincess Brewer, MD, is a cardiologist with Mayo Clinic. Her primary research focus is in developing strategies to reduce and ultimately eliminate cardiovascular health disparities in racial and ethnic minority populations and in underserved communities. Dr. Brewer also has special interest in increasing minority and women's participation in cardiovascular clinical trials through mobile health (mHealth) interventions. She also has published on faith-based interventions for cardiovascular disease prevention, cardiovascular disease in women, racial differences in weight maintenance and psychosocial factors influencing cardiac risk factors.