How many times in your life have you stopped, looked at the life choices you were making and thought, “I need to do better.” Maybe you thought you should change your diet, exercise more, stop smoking, or be more careful about blood pressure or cholesterol.
Research shows those who can reach cardiovascular wellness goals by age 50 can expect to live another 40 years free from heart disease and stroke. What are those wellness goals? Let’s take a look at Life’s Simple Seven, developed by the American Heart Association.
- Managing Blood Pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. It’s sometimes called “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms. One in three American adults has high blood pressure, yet about 21% don’t even know they have it. Of those with high blood pressure, 69% are receiving treatment, but only 45% have their blood pressure controlled.
- Get Active. The evidence is clear: people who exercise have better health than those who do not. A recent American Heart Association survey shows that fewer than two out of every ten Americans get the recommended 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity each week.
- Control Cholesterol. Everyone has cholesterol. It’s the waxy substance in your bloodstream and cells. Some cholesterol is important for good health, but too much cholesterol in your blood puts you at major risk for heart disease and stroke. When too much LDL (or bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up inside the walls of your arteries that feed your heart and brain. Cholesterol particles combine with other substances in your blood to form plaque. This can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible, putting you at major risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Eat Better. Eating for good health means choosing lots of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. You might have to train yourself to avoid foods and drinks with high sodium or added sugar. Another perhaps surprising part of healthy eating is to regularly include fish rich in Omega-3’s. It’s great for your heart and your brain.
- Lose Weight. If you’re overweight, don’t waste your energy feeling guilty or bad about it. Instead, do something positive. BMI is the key. BMI is a height-to-weight comparison that helps you identify the healthy weight target for your height. If your BMI is higher than 25, you need to bring that number down. Losing weight means changing the balance of calories into calories out.
- Don’t Smoke. Even if you’ve smoked for years, your body can start the repair process as soon as you stop. If you’re ready to start your plan for smoke-free health, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider. Medication can be helpful for some people during the kick-the-habit phase and research shows combining medical and behavioral therapies can increase success rates.
- Reduce Blood Sugar. Your digestion turns all carbohydrates into sugar or glucose which is then carried throughout your bloodstream to give you energy. Complex carbohydrates like whole-wheat breads and grains, and fruits and vegetables take longer to digest, helping to keep your energy supply steady. But simple sugars, like sweets, donuts, and white bread are very quickly converted into glucose, which can cause your body to call for extra surges of a hormone, insulin, to help regulate the energy supply. If your blood sugar is high, as often happens when you maintain a diet with too many simple carbohydrates, there will be a growth of plaque in your arteries. Diabetes is treatable but very dangerous and can often lead to heart disease and stroke. Even if you don’t have diabetes, you need to know your blood sugar level. Be sure to get a blood sugar level test after fasting at least every three years, because controlling glucose is an important part of stopping heart disease before it starts.
Remember, Life’s Simple Seven work together to help you build a better and stronger life, so by investing in improving in one area, like your blood sugar levels, you are likely to improve your weight and nutrition, too. However, without a plan, you’ll be at an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and other illnesses and disabilities. You may see an increased need for surgeries and other medical treatments, and you’ll almost certainly face a diminished quality of life.