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Medical News Today: The AHA’s 7 steps shown to reduce heart disease

People who score well on the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 checklist for a healthy heart are less likely to develop heart failure, a condition that reduces blood and oxygen flow to the body, according to research in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure.
[exercise and heart]
Exercise is one of the seven measures recommended to beat heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the US. According to a recent American Heart Association (AHA) statistical update, there were 801,000 American deaths in 2013 due to cardiovascular diseases, including over 370,000 to heart disease. Around 750,000 Americans had a heart attack in that year.

According to the update, at 40 years of age, men and women have a 1 in 5 chance of developing heart failure during their lifetime.

The Life’s Simple 7 checklist was designed by the AHA with the goal of improving public health through lifestyle education. Previous research has shown that improvements in the seven measures reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The measures can be adopted by anyone, say the AHA; they are not expensive, and even modest implementation will improve an individual’s health.

Life’s Simple 7 measures

The recommended actions are:

  • Manage blood pressure (BP): keep BP within healthy ranges to reduce strain on the heart, arteries and kidneys
  • Control cholesterol: high cholesterol contributes to plaque, clogging arteries and leading to heart disease and stroke
  • Reduce blood sugar: most of our food turns into glucose, or blood sugar, to be used for energy. Excess blood sugar eventually damages the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves
  • Get active: daily physical activity increases the length and quality of life
  • Eat better: a heart-healthy diet improves the chances of feeling good and staying healthy
  • Lose weight: lower weight means less burden on the heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton
  • Stop smoking: cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Researchers, led by Dr. Matthew Nayor, a cardiology fellow at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, analyzed data from the Framingham Offspring Study to evaluate the association between the Simple 7 and heart failure.

Lifestyle changes significantly decrease risk

The team followed 3,201 participants, with an average age of 59 years, for up to 12.3 years. During this period, 188 participants developed heart failure.

For each one-point higher cardiovascular health score, there was a 23% lower risk of developing heart failure. Those scoring in the middle third cut their risk of heart failure by nearly 50%, compared with those in the bottom third. Those in the top third reduced their risk even further.

Vanessa Xanthakis, PhD, senior author and assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics at Boston University, says:

“Even though there is awareness about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, many people do not act on those messages. This study points to the importance of knowing your numbers and speaking to your doctor about improving your score on each health metric and trying to get as close to ideal status as possible.”

Researchers also found an association between poor heart health measures and unhealthy changes in the heart’s structure and function, known as cardiac remodeling, which can occur during normal growth or as a result of illness such as myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, hypertension or valvular heart disease.

These changes, measured at the beginning of the study, appeared to put people at greater risk for heart failure later in life.

However, after adjusting for cardiac remodeling, low scores in the seven heart health factors remained predictors of heart failure.

Two limitations of the study were that participants were mostly white and of European ancestry, and their Life’s Simple 7 score was assessed only once, at the beginning of the study.

Dr. Nayor says the findings give a strong message that these are useful measures for a healthy lifestyle that can help reduce the chance of heart attack and stroke, and also of developing heart failure in the future.

Medical News Today recently reported on the latest statistics from the AHA showing that CVD and stroke are still the two top killers worldwide.



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