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Life’s Essential 8 for a Healthy Heart

Reducing your risk for heart disease, one step at a time.

Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team

We lose someone in America every thirty-six seconds to heart disease, according to the American Heart Association®. And it remains the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.

Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. No matter what you may look like on the outside, the inside of your body will dictate your risk. Don’t wait until you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, a heart attack or stroke.

Stay healthy by following the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8™—eight behaviors that minimize your risk for heart disease.1


Don’t smoke.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, individuals who smoke a pack of cigarettes each day have more than double the risk for heart attack than nonsmokers. Smoking lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol and raises blood pressure—additional risk factors for heart disease. If you smoke traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or vape, work on reducing your intake with a structured smoking cessation plan.


Maintain a healthy weight.

If overweight, a slow and steady weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week is the way to go. Eat for weight loss by focusing on food versus counting calories. Find a meal plan that’s best for you at MyPlate.gov.


Be active.

As little as 30 minutes of regular physical activity each day can help you maintain a healthy weight while increasing your HDL cholesterol and lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and stress. The American Heart Association recommends adults achieve 2 1/2 hours moderate or 75 minutes vigorous physical activity per week.


Eat a healthy meal plan.

Build meals rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant-based and lean meat-based proteins, lowfat dairy products and heart-healthy oils. For added benefit, choose foods rich in omega-3 fats like walnuts, flaxseeds, fish and seafood. To learn more, check out our “The Heart of the Matter” article.


Get healthy sleep.

Reaching 7-9 hours of sleep on average is imperative for adults to feel and function their best. The American Heart Association cites that undercutting your hours of sleep each night can increase your risk for heart disease and its risk factors of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and obesity.

Improve your sleep hygiene with our tips in our “Bring Sleep Back” article.


Manage blood pressure.

The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart works—increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. Help reduce the impact of daily stressors on your blood pressure by taking time for yourself each day with activities like yoga, journaling and laughing with friends. Aim for a blood pressure lower than 120/80 mmHg.


Keep blood sugar in check.

Prevent the onset of diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, being active, eating nutrient-rich foods and reducing your intake of added sugars. Read more about added sugars in our “Drink Less Sugar” article.


Control cholesterol.

In addition to the steps listed above, take any cholesterol-controlling medication prescribed to you by your healthcare provider.

1 American Heart Association. Life's Essential 8™: Your checklist for lifelong good health. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/lifes-essential-8. Accessed 2/10/2023.

Reviewed 2/1/2024