Kate Meyers

A new decade, healthier hearts: That’s the idea behind the American Heart Association’s bold new initiative to prevent heart disease and stroke. Beginning this year, the AHA is hoping to boost America’s heart health by 20 percent. How?

“We were able to do a pretty extensive review of the medical literature, and it just kept boiling down to these same seven metrics,” says Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, lead author of the AHA’s findings and associate professor and chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Here, the AHA’s “Simple 7” checklist to prevent heart disease and stroke:

1. Don’t smoke.

Smokers are two to three times more likely to die from heart disease than nonsmokers.

2. Maintain a body mass index of less than 25.

BMI is a way to measure obesity based on your height and weight. To determine your BMI, look for one of several online calculators -- including one on the AHA site -- where you can just plug in your height and weight and receive your number. 

3. Exercise regularly.

The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of rigorous exercise per week to help prevent heart disease and stroke.

4. Eat a healthy diet.

This includes whole foods, foods low in sodium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and at least two servings of fatty fish (salmon, trout, herring, etc.) per week.

5. Strive for total cholesterol under 200.

Too much cholesterol in your blood can lead to heart disease and stroke. While some people are able to lower their cholesterol through healthy lifestyle changes, others may need medication.

6. Keep your blood pressure below 120/80.

High blood pressure can damage or weaken your arteries. For most people, a healthy lifestyle (ease up on the salt!) is usually enough to keep blood pressure under control, though in some cases, medication may be needed.

7. Make sure your fasting blood sugar stays below 100.

Too much sugar in your blood can do long-term damage to your cardiovascular system and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. As with cholesterol and blood pressure, when it comes to blood sugar levels, a healthy lifestyle is key.

Concludes Lloyd-Jones: “The package of having healthy levels of all seven is the most powerful way we know of yet to live longer, live healthier and with better quality of life, and avoid diseases -- the fountain of youth for your heart and you.”

Kate Meyers is a Colorado-based writer whose work has appeared in O, InStyle and Women’s Health. She also blogs at I Am Mini Van.


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Health - 7 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease