By Marilyn Pribus

Cardiovascular health is “a tremendous story of scientific research,” according to Dr. Michael Lauer, deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health. “Heart disease is the quintessential example of the scientific method really working to help public health,” he says. Through research, scientists find ways to treat the disease and continue to look for new treatments.

Here's an example. Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Illinois, notes between 2000 and 2010, the American Heart Association (AHA) focused on reducing the death rate from heart attack and stroke. “Their goal was a 25-percent reduction in that decade, and they achieved more than 30,” he says. “We think it's a combination of better control of risk factors and better medical care.”

Lloyd-Jones chaired the AHA team charged with establishing new goals for the decade from 2010-20. “We wanted a new construct of cardiovascular health,” he explains, “so we did a careful, science-based review of people with good cardiovascular health and came up with our 'simple seven.;” These factors are

  • blood pressure 
  • cholesterol levels 
  • blood sugar 
  • smoking status 
  • weight 
  • physical activity 
  • healthy diet  

 “All seven are modifiable, all actionable,” Lloyd-Jones says. “If you can make an improvement in just one area, it can have a profound impact. For people with ideal levels of all of the seven, it acts like the fountain of youth. They live longer and healthier with a better quality of life at older ages. We spend less money on them. They also have less cancer, depression, and other chronic conditions like arthritis.”

To help determine your own heart health, take the brief, interactive My Life Check survey, which requests information about the simple seven factors. 

 “When you see what your snags are,” says Lloyd-Jones, “you can click right through to really wonderful content and come up with a very positive actionable plan. A very small change can make a big difference. You can pick that one thing you want to improve and find help to do it. There's real empowerment there.”  

To start living a healthier heart lifestyle, use your smart device. Learn more in “ 12 Apps to Improve Heart Health.