Following This Simple 8-Step Routine Extends Life by 6 Years, Study Shows

What if practicing healthy habits for your heart could actually make you biologically younger? Exciting new research suggests this may be possible.

Doctors often speak of “phenotypic” or biological age, which looks at metabolism, inflammation, and organ function biomarkers. This reveals someone’s underlying physiological age compared to their chronological age in years.

A preliminary study presented this week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023 found that having optimal cardiovascular health can slow biological aging. People with ideal heart health had biological ages roughly 6 years younger than their actual age.

The researchers used the AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 checklist. So what does this life-saving plan entail? Let me explain.

1. Eat Better

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Aim for an overall healthy eating pattern that includes whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds and cooking in healthy oils such as olive and canola. A diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds has been shown to benefit heart health and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.

Avoiding processed and fried foods and limiting added sugars and saturated fats is also recommended.

2. Be More Active

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Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. Walking briskly, swimming, cycling and dancing are great moderate activities.

Vigorous exercise includes running, high-intensity interval training, competitive sports, and heavy yardwork. For kids, the recommendation is 60 minutes of activity per day, including active play, PE, sports, etc. Regular physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and prevents obesity.

3. Quit Tobacco

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Cigarette smoking and use of inhaled nicotine products like e-cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for about one-third of deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Around a third of U.S. kids ages 3-11 are exposed to secondhand smoke or vaping, which also harms cardiovascular health. Quitting tobacco use is one of the best things you can do to improve your heart health.

4. Get Healthy Sleep

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Adults should regularly get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and babies, kids and teens need even more sleep depending on their age. Studies show that too little or too much sleep is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Getting adequate good quality sleep helps regulate hormones, metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation levels, which are important for heart health.

5. Manage Weight

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Achieving and maintaining a normal body weight has many benefits for your heart. Body mass index (BMI) uses your weight and height to estimate body fat. For most adults, a BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered normal weight.

Obesity (BMI of 30 or more) is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing even 5-10% of your weight can dramatically improve these cardiovascular risk factors.

6. Control Cholesterol

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High blood levels of non-HDL or “bad” cholesterol are associated with atherosclerosis and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Your doctor can monitor non-HDL cholesterol levels which can be reliably measured without fasting.

Keeping non-HDL cholesterol below recommended levels reduces plaque buildup in your arteries. If it is elevated, lifestyle changes and medication can help lower it.

7. Manage Blood Sugar

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Over time, elevated blood sugar levels can damage the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. In people with diabetes or prediabetes, monitoring hemoglobin A1c in the blood provides a marker of average blood sugar over 2-3 months, rather than just at one point in time.

Keeping A1c at recommended target levels helps prevent cardiovascular complications of chronically high blood sugar.

8. Manage Blood Pressure

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Keeping your blood pressure in a normal range reduces wear and tear on your cardiovascular system and prevents complications like stroke or heart attack. Readings below 120/80 mm Hg are considered optimal, 120-129/80 mm Hg are elevated, and 140/90 mm Hg or above indicate hypertension.

Lifestyle changes like weight loss, exercise, and stress management help control blood pressure, along with medication if needed.

Tips to Embrace These Steps

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Here are some general tips for incorporating the Life’s Essential 8 recommendations into your daily life:

  • Start small – Don’t try to overhaul everything at once. Pick one or two areas to focus on improving first. Once those changes stick, move on to another goal.
  • Make substitutions – Swap unhealthy foods and behaviors for healthier ones. Choose grilled chicken over fried, water instead of soda, a walk rather than TV time.
  • Schedule it – Mark exercise times and healthy meal planning on your calendar so they become a routine part of your day.
  • Prep ahead – Make things easy on yourself by chopping veggies in advance, cooking a big batch of whole grains, or packing a gym bag.
  • Involve others – Ask friends and family to join you in healthy habits like taking walks, playing sports, and cooking wholesome meals.
  • Reward progress – Celebrate successes with a healthy treat, shopping trip, or fun outing so positive changes feel good.
  • Be patient – Changing lifelong habits takes time. Stick with modifications for at least two months before re-evaluating.
  • Consult experts – Seek advice from dietitians, fitness coaches, doctors, and other professionals to develop personalized plans.
  • Use technology – Download apps, use fitness trackers, and sign up for healthy living newsletters to stay motivated.
  • Prioritize self-care – Don’t neglect relaxation time, adequate sleep, and mental health along with physical health.

Reducing Your Biological Age

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Research shows that adhering to the American Heart Association’s recommended behaviors for a healthy heart could actually slow down biological aging. Biological or phenotypical age looks at specific blood biomarkers related to organ health, diabetes risk, and inflammation levels. This gives a sense of someone’s underlying physiological age compared to their chronological age in years.

The analysis found that a 41-year-old following most of the heart healthy guidelines might have a biological age of just 36. But a 53-year-old lacking sleep and exercise with high cholesterol could have a biological age closer to 57. There was up to a 5 year difference between people’s actual and biological ages depending on their lifestyle habits.

This suggests that consistently practicing the Essential 8 behaviors like not smoking, eating well, controlling cholesterol, staying active, and getting enough sleep can keep your body younger on the inside. So take steps now to reduce your heart disease risk and keep yourself biologically young! The Essential 8 gives you an evidenced-based plan to slow aging while improving your overall health and wellbeing.

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Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.