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  • A new study from the American Heart Association (AHA) finds only 20% of Americans have optimal heart health.
  • They also say measures to improve heart health can reduce your risk of bad health outcomes
  • These include heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

New research from the American Heart Association (AHA), finds only 20% of Americans have ‘optimal’ heart health.

“I think what’s interesting and important about this study is it gives us a much more granular look at the components of cardiovascular health in the U.S. population, and how those differ by demographic groups across age, between men and women, across race/ethnic groups,” study leader and AHA president, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, told Healthline.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from 2013 to 2018.

They included non-pregnant, non-institutionalized individuals from 2 to 79 years old who had no cardiovascular disease.

All participants had an overall cardiovascular health (CVH) score calculated for them ranging from 0 to 100, and a score for diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, sleep duration, body mass index (BMI), blood lipids, blood glucose, and blood pressure, using AHA definitions.

According to updated metrics, among over 23,400 American adults and children without cardiovascular disease (CVD), the overall cardiovascular health of the U.S. population is not ideal.

The research showed roughly 80% of people scored at a low or moderate level.

According to the AHA, they relied on “substantial new evidence” gathered over the last 12 years, to add new definitions and metrics for quantifying cardiovascular health (CVH).

They also expanded the spectrum of CVH to begin from age two and address social determinants of health (SDOH), psychological health, and well-being as crucial factors to improve health.

AHA’s metric for considering CVH is now called Life’s Essential 8.

They include:

  • diet
  • physical activity
  • nicotine exposure
  • sleep health
  • body weight
  • blood lipids
  • blood glucos
  • blood pressure

Sleep is the newest addition.

“So we actually considered including sleep back in 2010,” said Lloyd-Jones. “We also considered things about stress that might be included, but at the time, neither of those was really measured very well, especially in population studies.”

Lloyd-Jones pointed out that sleep is related to total mortality, and there is independent information that sleep gives us “above and beyond” the original seven metrics.

Mitchell Weinberg, MD, chair of cardiology at Staten Island University Hospital, part of Northwell Health in New York said this tool is both valuable and patient friendly for determining CVH.

“Possessing one number that crystallizes a person’s current health status enables that individual to comprehend the need for change and target a single numeric goal,” he said.

Weinberg said that Life’s Essential 8 provides motivation for an individual patient to improve and maintain their cardiovascular health.

Weinberg also believes this tool is very useful for those focusing their efforts on a “grander scale.”

“Cardiovascular health in the U.S. clearly requires drastic improvement and we need to think beyond the individual patient if we are to make adequate change,” he said.

“Health systems, governments, payers, and policymakers can utilize such a validated tool to identify populations in need and track the effects of public health interventions,” he continued.

Lloyd-Jones believes that Life’s Essential 8 will continue to provide an opportunity for people to understand their current health, and know what they can work on to maintain or improve it.

“Across those eight metrics there’s going to be something in the yellow or red zone rather than in the green zone,” he said. “The good news is it doesn’t matter which one you pick, if you work on one of those eight things and try to improve it, it will improve your health.”

Lloyd-Jones emphasized that this will reduce your risk of bad health outcomes, including CVD, cancer, and dementia.

“Hopefully, it’s a very empowering message,” he said. “Let’s improve our health and by picking those things that you’re motivated to change, you can make a real impact on your long-term health outcomes.”

To obtain and maintain optimal heart health, Weinberg’s recommendations include:

  • Not smoking or vaping
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Keeping blood pressure in a healthy range (below 120/80mmHg)

“Perform moderate exercise greater than 150 minutes per week or vigorous exercise for 75 minutes per week,” he added, mentioning that children have even higher exercise targets.

A new study from the American Heart Association (AHA) finds only 20% of Americans have optimal heart health.

Experts say the AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 is a helpful tool to find out what aspect of health you most need to work on.

They also say that this could reduce your risk of bad health outcomes that include heart disease, cancer, and dementia.