Whose Heart Health Is Ideal?

Just one out of 1,900 people evaluated in a study published in Circulation, met the criteria for ideal cardiovascular health set by the American Heart Association (AHA).

The study, initiated by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, evaluated 1,933 people, ages 45 to 75, through surveys, physical exams, and blood tests. The results found that less than 10 percent met five or more criteria for heart health. 

The AHA's ideal for cardiovascular health includes seven factors:

  • nonsmoking
  • body mass index of less than 25
  • goal-level physical activity and healthy diet
  • untreated total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL
  • blood pressure below 120/80 mmHg
  • fasting blood sugar below 100 mg/dL

The study findings showcase how low the prevalence of heart health is and the difficulty ahead to try to meet the AHA's goal of a 20 percent improvement in cardiovascular health rates by 2020, according to Steven Reis, MD, associate vice chancellor for clinical research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and senior investigator of the study.

Being overweight or obese, according to Dr. Reis, likely influenced other behaviors of the study volunteers, contributing to their low heart health score.

Striving for Improved Heart Health

The AHA has developed seven measures to help you avoid heart disease. But don't be overwhelmed by the number. Start small, even achieving one or two of these steps will help put you on the road to a healthier heart.

  1. Get Active. Regular physical activity lowers blood pressure and increases HDL "good" cholesterol. AHA guidelines call for 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.
  2. Eat Healthier. To get the nutrients you need for a healthy heart, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon or trout) at least twice a week.
  3. Lose Weight. Being overweight or obese puts you at greater risk for heart disease. Losing even a few pounds can help reduce health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Check with your doctor to develop a diet plan best for you.
  4. Don't Smoke. Smoking increases your risk for coronary heart disease. Talk with your healthcare team for information on quit-smoking programs.
  5. Control Cholesterol. A cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or higher puts you in a high-risk category for heart disease. Your doctor can help you manage your high cholesterol.
  6. Manage Blood Pressure. Lifestyle improvements, such as healthy eating, regular exercise, and not smoking, can greatly reduce your blood pressure.
  7. Reduce Blood Sugar. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, controlling your weight, exercising, and taking prescription medication can reduce heart disease risk.

Medical News Today. "Study Reveals A Dismal 1 In 1,900 People Met AHA's Definition Of Ideal Heart Health." February 21, 2011.

American Heart Association. "The Simple 7 Heart Health Factors."