A study being reported on this week at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association revealed that fewer than six percent (6%) of Americans follow all seven behaviors consistent with a heart healthy lifestyle, which means more than 94% of us aren’t taking very good care of ourselves. Heart healthy behaviors include: not smoking, eating a healthy diet, managing weight, being active, and maintaining ideal levels of glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure. Of these, we most commonly don’t control our weight, high blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels.

A summary of the study is at:


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“Life’s Simple 7” is what the American Heart Association calls the seven heart healthy behaviors examined in this study. If the thought of adopting these behaviors is daunting, at least address the most important one  - smoking.

Smoking is the single most preventable cause of disease. It is a major risk factor for heart disease because it:

  • increases blood pressure (nicotine constricts arteries, causing blood pressure to rise).
  • increases heart rate (nicotine makes the heart beat faster and because of this, it needs more oxygen).
  • increases the risk of blood clots (some of the more than 7000 chemicals in tobacco smoke make  platelets, [a type of cell used in blood clotting] stickier, so they clump together easier)
  • reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood (tobacco smoke contains carbon monoxide – which attaches to red blood cells in place of oxygen, making them useless to the body since they can’t deliver oxygen). 

If you don’t smoke, but are overweight or obese, then you might want to focus on weight management. Doing this will also help control your blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels. Weight management, however, does not mean going on a fad diet. It means making healthier food choices, adopting healthier eating and sleeping habits, controlling stress, and becoming more physically active – for life, not for a few days or weeks.  

If you don’t know your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, make an appointment with your health care provider to find out what they are.

For more information:

Life’s Simple 7


Methods for quitting smoking

Quit Day

Report of the Surgeon General How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease


Heart healthy self-assessment tool


Healthy ways to lose weight



Weight loss and nutrition myths


Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal health education specialist at Associates for Health, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Associates for Health, LLC offers individual and group health education seminars, individual health behavior change guidance and health consulting for health care professionals. For more information please see www.associatesforhealth.com  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her at joannahayden@associatesforhealth.com