Can following these eight steps increase your lifespan?
Data presented earlier this month supports the idea that the things that are good for your heart are good for you, period. In fact, this research shows that optimizing markers of cardiovascular health can make people appear biologically younger than their peers -- to the tune of six years.
Reduced biological aging is not only linked with lower risk of heart disease, but also a longer life, better general health, and lower risk of death from any cause.
The researchers reached these conclusions by analyzing data from more than 65,000 adults. They used the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 checklist to measure heart health. I haven’t always agreed with every guideline from the AHA, but these are simple, common-sense behaviors that you’ll probably recognize from my own past recommendations:
- Eat better: Kudos to the AHA for putting diet first! The organization also advises an eating pattern that will sound familiar: Aim to include whole and unprocessed grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and cooking in non-tropical oils such as olive and canola (using modest amounts).
- Be more active: The AHA recommends 2 ½ hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. I would advise more (roughly double that) across the board but participating in any regular exercise will make a difference.
- Quit tobacco: Smoking in all its forms, including traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping, is a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. That includes about a third of all deaths from heart disease. This is a no-brainer.
- Get healthy sleep: Seven to nine hours of sleep per night promotes healing, improves brain function and reduces the risk for chronic diseases. If you find that you’re often tired and dragging through your day, you should discuss this with your doctor. Your sleep routine may need a reset – or you might even need to be evaluated for sleep apnea.
- Manage weight: If you’re following the first four steps, this one should follow almost effortlessly.
- Control cholesterol: Again, this often occurs naturally as the result of your food choices and exercise patters. However, your levels need to be verified through a lab test. Have your cholesterol profile checked at your annual physical, and talk to your doctor about options if your LDL levels are high. And if you don’t think you’re getting enough whole food fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants or plant sterols in your diet, Step One can help reliably fill those nutrition gaps.
- Manage blood sugar: If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, you may need to monitor your glucose levels closely, and even take medications to control your readings. But just like for weight and cholesterol, eating right, exercising regularly, and getting good sleep can go a long way to improving blood sugar levels. In many people, pre-diabetes and even type 2 diabetes can be reversed or even “cured” with aggressive lifestyle change.
- Manage blood pressure: Another risk factor that can be optimized/normalized through diet, exercise, quitting smoking and getting good sleep. Levels less than 120/80 mm Hg are optimal, according to the AHA. High blood pressure is defined as 130-139 mm Hg systolic (the top number in a reading) or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic (bottom number). If you’re seeing elevated BP readings at your doctor’s office, get involved in your care by getting an automated home BP cuff. They are readily available, inexpensive, and can provide crucial data regarding your blood pressure control.
I suspect none of this advice is new or surprising to you. And maybe you’ve heard it so many times it feels repetitive and even boring. But good advice is good advice – no matter how often it is dispensed. Especially since all of these common-sense steps can help you live longer better. And that’s the ultimate goal of all we do in medicine, and especially in preventive care. Having said that, dishing out advice is far easier than following it. My hope is that using our products makes it simpler for you to adopt a heart-healthy diet -- and that healthy eating, in turn, makes succeeding at most of the other seven steps realistic and attainable.
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