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Want to live longer? Follow 8 heart-healthy habits, says the American Heart Association


Making several specific lifestyle changes could slow biological aging by six years, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

A new study from the organization has found that improved heart health is key to helping to slow down the aging process, which in turn reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and other medical issues.

The key is to incorporate “Life’s Essential 8,” which the AHA defines as “the key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health.” 

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The details of the findings will be presented at the AHA’s Scientific Sessions 2023 from Nov. 11-13 in Philadelphia.

Nour Makarem, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Epidemiology*, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York City, New York

Nour Makarem, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, was the senior study author. (Columbia University Irving Medical Center)

“Improving heart health through healthy lifestyle changes does not just lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, but can also slow down the rate of biological aging, which can increase the number of years of life lived in good health,” said study senior author Nour Makarem, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, in a statement to Fox News Digital.

Dr. Bradley Serwer, a Maryland-based cardiologist and chief medical officer at VitalSolution, a company that offers cardiovascular and anesthesiology services to hospitals, was not involved in the AHA’s study, but shared his findings on the highlights that have been released.

Life's essential 8

Making several specific lifestyle changes could slow biological aging by six years, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). (iStock/American Heart Association)

“This is not surprising data, as those who focus on health tend to do well clinically,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“There are many health benefits, beyond coronary artery disease, to following a healthy lifestyle.”

Chronological vs. phenotypic age

While chronological age is based strictly on calendar years, the AHA tracks phenotypic age, which takes into account both actual age and blood markers that measure things like metabolism, inflammation and organ function, according to a press release from the AHA.

Life's Essential 8

The American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8™ image is a wheel shape with 8 wedges representing the 8 elements essential for cardiovascular health.   (American Heart Association)

“Phenotypic age is a practical tool to assess our body’s biological aging process and a strong predictor of future risk of disease and death,” said Makarem.

“We observed a dose-response relationship, meaning that as heart health improves, biological aging slows down.”

“Any progress toward improving heart health is clinically meaningful and promotes healthy longevity.”

Even gradual improvements in lifestyle behaviors can be beneficial, the researcher added. 

“Any progress toward improving heart health is clinically meaningful and promotes healthy longevity,” she told Fox News Digital.

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Cardiologist Dr. Ernst von Schwarz, who practices in Culver City, California, was not involved in the study but shared his thoughts on longevity with Fox News Digital.

“Biological aging [refers to] the continuation of the natural life cycle of cells or organisms, which follows a biologic clock that directs the processes of growth, repair and senescence (cellular aging) until apoptosis or necrosis leads to death,” he said.

Happy older couple eating

Those who scored high for heart health had a younger physiological age; the opposite was true for those with poor heart health. (iStock)

In the study, researchers calculated the difference between actual and biological age for over 6,500 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2015 and 2018.

The participants, who averaged 47 years of age, were 50% male and 50% female.

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Those who scored high for heart health had a younger physiological age; the opposite was true for those with poor heart health.

Per an example cited in the release, the average actual age of those with high cardiovascular health was 41, while their average biological age was 36.

Elderly woman eating salad

Following a healthy diet is one of the “Essential 8” habits the AHA recommends for an optimal heart health score. (iStock)

For those with low cardiovascular health, the average actual age was 53 — compared to an average biological age of 57.

One limitation of the study is that the participants’ heart health markers were evaluated at only one point in time, the AHA noted, which means any later changes were not taken into account.

8 key factors for optimal heart health

The AHA calculates heart health based on an individual’s score for what it calls “Life’s Essential 8.”

Those who score high in those eight areas are, on average, six years younger biologically than their actual age. 

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The eight lifestyle behaviors for optimal heart health are the following:

  1. Following a healthy sleep schedule
  2. Not smoking
  3. Getting regular physical activity
  4. Adhering to a healthy diet
  5. Maintaining a healthy body weight
  6. Maintaining healthy blood glucose levels
  7. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
  8. Maintaining healthy blood pressure
Blood pressure

Maintaining healthy blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol are key to improving heart health and longevity, experts say. (iStock)

After an evaluation for all eight markers, individuals received a score of high, moderate or low heart health, per the AHA.

“We still need to review the study for more details, but this reinforces that healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and watching your cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure will make you live longer and better,” Serwer said.

“Everyone wants to live longer, yet more importantly, we want to live healthier longer, so we can really enjoy a good quality of life for as many years as possible.”

“The Essential 8 as recommended by the American Heart Association addresses risk factors that can be manipulated by applying medical recommendations in addition to self-management,” noted von Schwartz. 

“Besides these eight, social and spiritual fulfillment is as important to achieve longevity,” he added.

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“Advances in biotechnology and anti-aging research have helped to discover certain biochemical steps and mediators that lead to and determine senescence (cellular deterioration),” von Schwarz told Fox News Digital. 

“Knowing these facts enables us to interfere by using senolytic drugs and mechanisms to delay or even inhibit these processes, as we are doing in clinical studies right now.”

People doing yoga

Getting regular physical activity is one of the “Essential 8” habits for optimal heart health. (iStock)

“These findings help us understand the link between chronological age and biological age and how following healthy lifestyle habits can help us live longer,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., chair of the writing group for Life’s Essential 8 and a past volunteer president of the AHA, in the release.

“Everyone wants to live longer, yet more importantly, we want to live healthier longer, so we can really enjoy a good quality of life for as many years as possible.”

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Fox News Digital reached out to the American Heart Association for additional comments on the study findings.

Founded in 1924 and headquartered in Dallas, Texas, AHA is the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. 

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health



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