7 Steps for a Healthy Heart

From Diet to Exercise to Cholesterol, AHA Identifies 7 Factors for Cardiovascular Health

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 20, 2010

Jan. 20, 2010 -- The American Heart Association has identified seven "simple" steps you can take for a healthy heart. But the road to better cardiovascular health will take some work.

“Life’s Simple 7” categorizes cardiovascular health as Poor, Intermediate, or Ideal in each of seven areas.

Published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, the AHA says ideal cardiovascular health for adults is defined by these health measures:

  1. Never smoked or quit more than a year ago.
  2. A healthy body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat determined by a formula using weight and height.
  3. Physical activity, and the more the better. The new measure says at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise is necessary for ideal health, or 75 minutes weekly of vigorous physical activity.
  4. Blood pressure below 120/80.
  5. Fasting blood glucose less than 100 milligrams/deciliter, a fasting measure of blood sugar level.
  6. Total cholesterol of less than 200 milligrams/deciliter.
  7. Eating a healthy diet. Four to five of the key components of a healthy diet are followed. For a 2,000-calorie diet, these include:
    • At least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day
    • At least two 3.5 oz. servings of fish per week, preferably oily fish
    • At least three 1-ounce servings of fiber-rich whole grains per day
    • Limiting sodium to less than 1,500 milligrams a day
    • Drinking no more than 36 ounces weekly of sugar-sweetened beverages

The AHA hopes the seven factors could improve the cardiovascular health of Americans by 20% by the year 2020, and also reduce deaths from cardiovascular-related diseases and strokes by 20%.

New Resource for Heart Health

The AHA says its goals represent the first time it has adopted better health as a principal goal and that it has developed a new online resource, “My Life Check,” at By completing the assessment, people can determine what they need to do to achieve better cardiovascular health.

“To date, there has been great success in reducing disability and death from heart disease and stroke, in part through aggressive improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of these diseases and in limited uptake of measures to prevent heart disease and stroke,” Clyde W. Yancy, MD, president of the American Heart Association, says in the news release. “We achieved our 2010 goal of reducing death by heart disease and stroke by 25%, earlier and by a wider margin than we had targeted.”

Still, he says, too many people “continue to have unrelenting exposure to known important risk factors for heart disease and stroke to the point that we are likely to begin seeing an increase in these diseases, and at an earlier age.”

That, he says, is cause for alarm and a trend that needs to be stopped.

Longer, Healthier Lives

David M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, lead author of the special report, says in the news release that people who take steps to improve cardiovascular health can help reduce the financial burden of the Medicare-eligible population.

Lloyd-Jones, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says that by reaching the masses with the new AHA message, “we could change American health for the better for decades to come.”

That’s especially true if the message gets out to people at middle age and younger, he says.

Genetics plays a role in cardiovascular health, but people should do all they can, says Lloyd-Jones, and the first step can be knowing and understanding measures that are important for heart health.

“Essentially, everyone is a candidate to take at least one step forward in these metrics, from poor to intermediate or intermediate to ideal, to move a substantial portion of the population and have a real impact on cardiovascular health,” he says.

Yancy, who is medical director of the Baylor Hearth and Vascular Institute at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, says the Life’s Simple 7 plan could have a profound impact on health and lead to longer, healthier lives.

Show Sources


News release, American Heart Association.

News release, AHA-commissioned survey of health habits of Americans.

Lloyd-Jones, D. AHA Special Report, Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info