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Exercise and diet are two important components to the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” behaviors that can lower the risk of high blood pressure. Getty Images
  • The American Heart Association says people who follow healthy lifestyle choices in their 30s can lower their risk of high blood pressure in their 40s.
  • The organization offers 7 simple heart healthy tips that involve managing diet, exercise, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
  • Experts say people shouldn’t try to make all 7 lifestyle changes at once. Picking 1 or 2 that best fit your lifestyle is a better way to proceed.

Following “Life’s Simple 7” in your 30s can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure in your 40s.

That’s according to a new study published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study surveyed more than 30,000 adults in the United States, finding that 42 percent of participants had developed hypertension (high blood pressure) by the 9-year follow-up.

The researchers noted that for every point higher on the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” score, the participant showed a 6 percent lower risk of high blood pressure.

Nearly half of all U.S. adults have hypertension, according to the American Heart Association. The condition is associated with stroke, heart attack, vision loss, and heart failure.

But experts say it’s also preventable, especially with early interventions.

“Actions we take now are going to impact our health today and for years to come,” said Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The Life’s Simple 7 (LS7) is a metric model of cardiovascular health that was created by the American Heart Association.

The LS7 considers health behaviors and factors such as:

  • body mass index (BMI)
  • diet
  • smoking
  • physical activity
  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol
  • blood sugar

Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, ScM, FAHA, is chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University. He’s also president-elect of the American Heart Association and part of the group that developed the Life’s Simple 7 scale and criteria.

Lloyd-Jones said the group considered including stress and sleep into Life’s Simple 7 list, too.

“The problem of course is that stress is everywhere. It’s unavoidable. It’s also very hard to measure stress,” he told Healthline. “We couldn’t come up with a way to have a reliable measure of stress the way we have a reliable measure of blood pressure.”

“And stress is also experienced very differently by different people based on their background and many other factors,” Lloyd-Jones added.

Nevertheless, stress plays a crucial role in heart health.

“Stress is a sort of modifier on our ability to actually adhere to the Simple 7,” said Lloyd-Jones. “When we’re stressed, we tend not to eat as healthy, we don’t engage in physical activity, and we don’t sleep as well, which has implications for both weight and blood pressure.”

You don’t have to necessarily set out on an all-or-nothing mission.

Lloyd-Jones said you don’t need to tackle all 7 to see significant health benefits.

“Pick the thing that you’re ready to work on today and improve it, and that will have real, tangible benefits for your health,” he said.

Also, go the path of least resistance by choosing to change in whatever way works for you.

“It’s a really important part of this,” Lloyd-Jones said. “Some people will respond really well to apps on their phones that count calories for them or give them a limit on what they should eat every day. Other people do not respond well to that at all.”

Lloyd-Jones said others may do better with an intermittent fasting approach where they seriously limit or restrict calories during certain times and then eat moderately for the remainder of the day.

He gave the example of eating primarily between noon and 8 p.m.

“It’s important to figure out what kind of person you are,” he said.

Still, he argues the formula of success for most people is moderated eating with increased physical activity over time.

However, if you’re a smoker, Lloyd-Jones suggests starting there first.

“Smoking is not only a risk factor for chronic damage to the heart and lungs, but it is also a trigger,” he said. “Nicotine and other factors increase your blood pressure acutely, which puts more stress on your heart.”

He noted that within a year of quitting smoking, you can bring your risk of heart attack and stroke down by half of what it was. Within a few years, it can be close to that of someone who’s never smoked.

“You get very real benefits, very quickly,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Passerrello suggests following a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

Experts say the DASH diet is among the easiest to follow and offers the most practical solutions to real-world eating scenarios.

“DASH is a flexible approach to eating that doesn’t discuss which foods to eat and not to eat,” said Passerrello. “Rather, DASH takes an overall dietary pattern approach and gives daily — and even weekly — goals of foods to include, and a few to limit.”

Passerrello’s list for heart healthy foods include:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • whole grains
  • beans (fresh or rinsed)
  • fish
  • lean poultry
  • nuts
  • healthy oils

By focusing on these foods, she said you’ll also be naturally limiting your sodium intake. You’ll also be avoiding red and processed meats, refined grains, and sweets.