7 Measures of Cardiovascular Health

Want to keep your heart strong and blood pumping? Here are the seven things you need for a healthy cardiovascular system.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Andy Manganaro, MD, FACS, FACC

Published on 2/5/2021

7 Measures of Cardiovascular Health

In the United States, one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease. That's a staggering number. The good news is CVD is largely preventable with the right lifestyle choices. Read on to learn about the seven things doctors look at to determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular health has been studied a lot over the years by doctors and scientists. The health of your heart, lungs and blood vessels have a huge impact on your whole body — and life expectancy. In fact, you've probably heard that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.

Doctors have identified seven different metrics that can help you determine your cardiovascular health, popularly known as Life's Simple 7. These are physical activity, diet, smoking status, body mass index, cholesterol level, blood sugar level, and blood pressure.

Each measurement is scored 2 for ideal, 1 for intermediate, or 0 for poor quality. When added together, they give an overall picture of your cardiovascular health. A score of 10-14 represents optimal cardiovascular health, 5-9 is average, and 0-4 is categorized as inadequate.

Those who score in the inadequate range have an incredibly high 48.6% lifetime chance of heart failure, while those in the optimal range reduce their chances to only 14.4%.

Let's talk a little more about these seven metrics and what you can do to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

woman kneeling down on running path tying pink shoes

1. Physical Activity

Regular exercise is incredibly important to your health. There are many benefits to engaging in regular physical activity, but one of the main ones comes from the fact that your heart is a muscle. Like any muscle, the more you work your heart, the stronger it becomes.

So, how much exercise do you need for the best results? The latest research suggests that exercising 4-5 times a week for 30 minutes is best for improving overall cardiovascular health. Those who do have measurably stronger hearts and healthier arteries, which transport blood throughout the body.

Aerobic exercise also seems to be better for the cardiovascular system. These are exercises like running, biking, swimming, and using the elliptical at the gym. Anything that gets the heart pumping for a sustained amount of time is going to be most beneficial.

If you're just getting started exercising, talk to your doctor to see what kind of plan they recommend. Doing too much too quickly can result in unwanted injuries.

table full of heart-healthy foods

2. Diet

Your body gets almost everything it needs to function from your food. If it isn't getting enough nutrients or is getting overloaded with things it doesn't need (like too much sugar) then you are going to see and feel the effects.

There is no shortage of lists available online for heart-healthy diets. Some of the foods you should incorporate include salmon, oatmeal, black beans, and almonds for their rich supply of omega-3 acids.

On the flip side, you should avoid any food that is full of trans fat and saturated fat. This includes fried foods, baked goods, and any non-dairy coffee creamer.

A good general rule of thumb when grocery shopping is to stick to the outside edge of the store. This loop usually includes fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, and dairy while skipping all of the processed and packaged foods.

used cigarette laying on table

3. Smoking Status

In 2021, the dangers of smoking are common knowledge and it shows in the data. There has been a slow and steady decline of smoking in adults since 1965, when 45% of adults smoked. Today, that number is down to only 13.8%.

Rather than walk through the dangers of smoking, of which there are many, we'd instead like to encourage any smokers with information regarding what happens when you stop smoking.

Within two weeks, your circulation improves and your lung capacity increases as much as 30%. After one month of not smoking, your lungs start to regrow protective tissue and fibers that protect against infection.

After a year of not smoking, you will breathe dramatically easier and will have little-to-no coughing fits related to your prior habit. Finally, after three years of not smoking, the risk of heart attack is the same as that of a nonsmoker.

There are even more added benefits five, ten, and even fifteen years after your last cigarette, but what is most appealing for many smokers is that the health benefits can start being felt in just a few weeks.

infographic explaining body mass index ratings

4. Body Mass Index

Many people use their weight as a way to gage their health, but that isn't necessarily the best number to use. Because of certain body types and other factors, what constitutes a healthy weight can vary quite a bit.

Instead, doctors use Body Mass Index, or BMI. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. As a formula, it looks like kg/m2.

As an example, a person who is six feet tall and weighs 180 pounds would look like this:

180 lbs = 81.6 kgs

6 feet = 1.8 meters

81.6/1.82= 25.1

A healthy BMI is usually in the range of 18.5-24.9. However, it is important to note that the formula isn't perfect. Muscle is significantly heavier than fat, so athletes or bodybuilders who do regular strength training may have an abnormally high number.

One of the symptoms of being overweight is an increase in the likelihood of peripheral artery disease, a type of cardiovascular disease. Click here to learn more about screenings.

graphic of cholesterol buildup in artery

5. Cholesterol Level

There are two kinds of cholesterol your body uses: low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). Low-density lipoproteins store excess cholesterol in your arteries, which can build up plaque on your artery walls. This increases blood pressure and your risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.

HDLs perform the opposite function. They take cholesterol out of your arteries, freeing them up to better transport blood.

Managing the cholesterol level in your blood is as simple as managing your diet. The biggest factors are watching your salt intake and avoiding shrimp, egg yolks, dairy products and organ meat like liver. All of these are full of LDLs and can throw off your balance.

To increase your HDL levels and reduce the cholesterol in your body, prioritize foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

Life Line Screening offers a complete cholesterol blood test to help determine your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Click here to learn more.

various types of sugar laid out on a table

6. Blood Sugar Level

Many people think of blood sugar as only a concern for diabetics. However, the CDC estimates that 88 million Americans are prediabetic — that's almost one-in-three! Prediabetes is a health condition where the body's blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

Those with diabetes have a dramatically higher chance of suffering from a heart attack, so managing your blood sugar levels is critical. Once again, the best defenses against diabetes are a proper diet and plenty of exercise.

Obviously, an excess of sweets and desserts can lead to high blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, sugar is added to a huge number of packaged foods that people might not usually consider sweet. Things like pasta sauce, instant oatmeal, salad dressings and pre-packaged fruits can all be hiding a high sugar content. Always read the labels of what you buy so you know exactly what you are putting in your body.

Life Line Screening offers a simple blood glucose test to help determine your risk of developing diabetes. Click here to learn more.

nurse taking man’s blood pressure with blood pressure cuff

7. Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is simply a measurement of how hard it is for your heart to pass blood through your arteries. Your blood pressure is affected by many factors we already mentioned: cholesterol level, weight, smoking and a lack of exercise will all cause your blood pressure to go up.

Blood pressure measurements are given in the form of two numbers, like this: 120/80 mm Hg.

The top number (systolic blood pressure) indicates the amount of pressure being exerted against your artery walls when your heart beats. The second (diastolic blood pressure) indicates the amount of pressure being exerted against your artery walls in between heartbeats. A "normal" blood pressure measurement is considered less than 120 for systolic (the top number) and less than 80 for diastolic (the bottom number).

If your blood pressure becomes too high, you may suffer from hypertension. This occurs when the pressure of the blood pushing against your arteries becomes strong enough to damage them over time.

Actively working toward managing all of the other factors on this list should also have the added benefit of lowering your blood pressure. If it is a persistent issue, doctors are also able to recommend medication that can help reduce it.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for developing heart arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation. Click here to learn more about AFib screenings.

Wrap Up

If you put a concentrated effort into keeping these seven factors under control, you're much more likely to live a longer, healthier life. Each one of these is connected to the others, so putting in the effort to affect one will inevitably benefit the others as well.

If you'd like to know where your health is right now, Life Line Screening offers several fast, easy and affordable tests that can help you take control of your health. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to Contact Us.

Topics:

Cardiovascular Wellness

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