Follow Seven Simple Steps for Heart Health

Posted: September 19, 2011

February is American Heart Month. It’s a time set aside to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States.

      The American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” campaign focuses on the seven most important things you can do to live a healthy life free from cardiovascular disease and stroke. Nicole DeMarco, Penn State Cooperative Extension community health program assistant, provides the following information on those seven factors from the American Heart Association.

     1. Stop smoking. Smoking is the number one modifiable cause of death and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. As soon as you stop smoking, your risk starts to drop and in time will be the same as if you never smoked.

     2. Maintain a healthy weight. If you have too much body fat, especially at the waist, you have a higher risk for health problems. A BMI of less than 25 is optimal for cardiovascular health.

     3. Get active. People who exercise have better health than those who do not. A recent American Heart Association survey shows that fewer than two out of every ten Americans get the recommended 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity each week. Getting 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity benefits your heart.

     4. Eat better. A heart-healthy diet takes into account proper energy balance. Eating for good health means choosing lots of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, and fat-free or low fat dairy products, while avoiding foods and drinks with high sodium or added sugar.

     5. Control cholesterol. When there’s too much cholesterol in your blood, you are at major risk for heart disease and stroke. You should keep your total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol each day by reading food labels and choosing foods low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol.

     6. Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. It makes your heart work harder, which puts more strain on the heart and arteries. One out of every three American adults have high blood pressure, and many are unaware. Have your blood pressure checked regularly.

     7. Control blood sugar. High blood sugar encourages the growth of the plaque in your arteries and increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. A healthy non-diabetic adult should have a blood sugar reading of 100 mg/dL or less.

     The American Heart Association has developed a new online assessment called “My Life Check” It outlines the seven goals for ideal health, shows you where you are on the path, and offers simple action steps you can take to help live a long, productive, and healthy life. Visit to take this assessment. Once you have taken “My Life Check”, your heart score will help you understand what simple steps you may need to take to improve your heart health and quality of life. It will also give you specific action plans that will teach you how to change your behaviors and move you closer to your individual health goals.

   Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lackawanna County.