Women's Health     Healthy Kids     Teen Health     Health Guide    

8 Essentials for a Healthy Heart



How to manage your family's risk factors

healthy heart essentials


Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States and globally. Studies throughout the past two decades indicate more than 80% of all cardiovascular events may be prevented by a healthy lifestyle and management of risk factors.

To help Americans measure their cardiovascular health and make meaningful lifestyle changes, the American Heart Association introduced Life’s Essential 8, a checklist that explains eight habits and health measures that affect heart and brain health and overall well-being.

The checklist incorporates knowledge gained from more than 2,400 scientific papers on cardiovascular health published since it was originally introduced as Life’s Simple 7 more than a decade ago. It has been expanded to apply to anyone age 2 and older, and now includes sleep as the eighth cardiovascular health component, reflecting findings that healthy sleep is essential for optimal heart and brain health.

“The idea of optimal cardiovascular health is important because it gives people positive goals to work toward at any stage of life,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., EAHA, president of the American Heart Association and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “We felt it was the right time to conduct a comprehensive review of the latest research to refine the existing metrics and consider any new metrics that add value to assessing cardiovascular health for all people.”

Start making positive changes to improve your heart and brain health with these eight essential steps:

Eat Better

The checklist offers a simple questionnaire to assess your eating pattern. A heart-healthy diet encompasses a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes; whole grains and fat-free and low-fat dairy; lean protein; and low intake of sodium, red and processed meats and sweetened foods and drinks. Eat whole foods and rely on healthy non-tropical oils (like olive and canola) for cooking.

Get Active

For most adults, the target level of moderate physical activity (such as walking) is 150 minutes or more per week or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity physical activity. Kids ages 6 and older need 1 hour or more of play and structured activities per day.

Quit Tobacco and Nicotine

Nicotine makes your heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket while carbon monoxide and tobacco rob your heart, brain and arteries of oxygen. There are about 4,000 chemical components found in cigarettes; at least 250 of them are harmful to your health. Reducing your health risk means eliminating exposure to any form of nicotine, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping devices, as well as limiting your exposure to secondhand smoke.


Get Adequate Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to cardiovascular health. Measured by average hours of sleep per night, the optimal level is 7-9 hours daily for adults. Ideal daily sleep ranges for children are 10-16 hours per 24 hours for ages 5 and younger; 9-12 hours for ages 6-12; and 8-10 hours for ages 13-18.

Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Although the measure of body mass index (BMI) is not a perfect metric, it is easily calculated and widely available; therefore, BMI remains a reasonable gauge to assess weight categories that may lead to health problems. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is associated with the highest levels of cardiovascular health.

Manage Cholesterol Levels

Non-HDL (“bad”) cholesterol, rather than total cholesterol, is a reasonable predictor of cardiovascular risk. Non-HDL cholesterol can be measured without fasting, which means it can be assessed at any time of day and reliably calculated.


Manage Blood Glucose

When there is not enough insulin or the body does not use insulin efficiently, blood glucose levels accumulate in the bloodstream. Hemoglobin A1c readings measure your long-term blood glucose control. A normal A1c is below 5.7%; between 5.7%-6.4% indicates pre-diabetes.

Understand Blood Pressure Readings

An optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg while hypertension is defined as a 130-139 mm Hg systolic pressure (the top number in a reading) or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic pressure (bottom number).

For more ideas to achieve optimal cardiovascular health, or to assess your health and lifestyle risks, visit heart.org/lifes8.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

(Family Features) 



Other articles by HVP News Reporters


  • Back-to-school could mean back to nicotine addiction for some teens

    The NYS Smokers' Quitline offers free resources to help teenagers and their parents on a journey to become nicotine-free

    With back-to-school season drawing near and COVID-19 protocols becoming less restrictive, teenagers will soon encounter more opportunities for socialization. This unfortunately could mean exposure to vape products, which often have high concentrations of nicotine and harm the still-developing brain. read more »
  • Centsible ways to teach kids healthy money habits

    It is imperative to secure your child's financial future

    In school, most kids only learn algebra, calculus, and trigonometry but not how to budget, save or invest. The older we get, the more responsibilities we have that make it challenging to focus on learning financial principles, which is why it is key to start teaching kids healthy money habits at a young age. read more »
  • 3 tips to boost your children's self-esteem this school year

    Be your kid's cheerleader

    While packing bags and backpacks for school, there’s one essential that may be overlooked: Children’s self-esteem. Although many children may feel confident and self-assured at home, they can feel differently in the classroom. When children have high self-esteem, they’re less likely to reflect negative feelings toward others. read more »
  • Breathe easy

    What to look for and how to make your home's air better

    According to the 2021 American Time Use Survey, 38% of employed people did some or all of their work from home. That means better indoor air quality at home is as important as ever. read more »
  • Simple, sweet energy bites

    Keep your family's energy level up

    Having enough energy and fuel to make it through a long day can be challenging. No matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent, corporate worker or small business owner, having a high energy level that lasts throughout the day is important for both you and those around you. read more »
  • Get smart about sustainability

    Tips for teaching kids earth-friendly habits

    For many parents, their interest in sustainability and earth-friendly living is driven by a desire to create a better world for their children. Taking personal action and responsibility are part of the solution but teaching the next generation to be environmentally conscious is an important part of the equation, too. read more »
  • A homemade crunchy mushroom wrap to save your grocery budget

    Sneak something healthy into your family's meal

    If the prices of your favorite ingredients have you dreading the next trip to the grocery store, finding ways to stretch your budget can help you feel better at the checkout counter. read more »
  • 6 tips for pet parents

    How to be environmentally friendly with your fur babies

    For many people, “going green” means walking rather than driving, ditching single-use plastics, and conserving energy. To go above and beyond, pet parents can follow additional measures that aid the planet while supporting their furry friends. read more »
  • Minimize the risk of child identity theft

    NYS Division of Consumer Protection offers advice

    Child Identity Theft is a growing problem. According to recent data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft for those under 19 years old grew 60% in three years. read more »
  • Cyberbullying in the US increased by 10% in 2 years

    How you can protect your kids

    As many children are coming back to school, experts recommend to parents how to keep them safe online read more »