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If Heart Health & Longevity Were A College Course, Americans Wouldn't Graduate

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  • Posted on 29th Jul, 2022 12:05 PM
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U.S.A., reporting for summer school!

It’s no surprise that we aren’t exactly the heart-healthiest nation in the world. Many people that grow up outside of the U.S. associate Americans with french fries, burgers, and soda.

The point is that there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to American cardiovascular health. In fact, thanks to the American Heart Association’s new guidelines for measuring heart health metrics, “Life’s Essential 8,” a new study published in Circulation has outlined exactly how much the average American can enhance their cardiovascular health, function, and longevity outcomes.

What are Life’s Essential 8?

This past June, the AHA announced a facelift of its original cardiovascular metrics (“Life’s Simple 7,” first developed over a decade ago in 2010) to account for social determinants of health and psychological health factors and include the entire lifespan. Limitations were eliminated from the old approach and the new-and-improved approach, which the AHA is calling “Life’s Essential 8,” includes eight key components to assess cardiovascular health:

  1. Diet
  2. Physical activity
  3. Nicotine exposure
  4. Sleep health
  5. Body mass index (BMI)
  6. Blood lipids (you know, triglycerides and total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol)
  7. Blood glucose
  8. Blood pressure

Although “sleep health” is the only novel addition (and mindbodygreen is a big fan of this add-on, as quality sleep is vital to heart and overall health, something most Americans lack, and perhaps most importantly: a modifiable lifestyle factor that can be improved), the criteria for diet, nicotine exposure, blood lipids, and blood glucose have been updated to give Americans an accurate, modernized glimpse at their overall cardiovascular health.

Each component is given a grade between zero and 100 (sound familiar?) and a collective of all eight factors is calculated for one ultimate score. 

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How we scored: Heart health in the U.S.

The Circulation study evaluated data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to see how 23,409 healthy Americans (i.e., without specific heart health issues) aged two to 79 scored using the criteria and scoring methods of Life’s Essential 8. 

Not to get too technical, but NHANES uses fancy, weighted statistics (speaking of school...) to allow for a representative snapshot of the entire nation. So, how did we do?

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Using the AHA’s eight metrics, the average score for adults was 64.7 and, even more concerning, the average among children was 65.5. Translation? American adults failed and American children just barely passed—at some universities, that is. 

(Though we’d argue that landing a D- is far from something to celebrate, especially when the “class” topic at hand is overall heart health and longevity. Yikes.)

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The takeaway.

There’s tons of room for improvement when it comes to overall American heart health. Thankfully, all of the heart health metrics laid out by the AHA are modifiable! Taking actions to upgrade your sleep habits, diet, and exercise routine are easily attainable (and will certainly pay off in the long run).

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