Life’s essential 8 for your heart health


In this article:

  • The American Heart Association revised its “Life’s Simple 7” to “Life’s Essential 8,” adding sleep as an important factor for your heart health.

  • The “Essential 8” includes diet, exercise, tobacco use, weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

  • You can calculate your own heart health based on your lifestyle factors and some simple tests from your physician.

How do you care for your heart? The American Heart Association (AHA) recently revised its “Life’s Simple 7” guidelines to add one more tip for keeping your heart beating at its best. The new guidelines, “Life’s Essential 8,” include several health behaviors and health factors that contribute to your heart health.

These health behaviors and factors are actionable ways to build habits to support your and your family’s heart health. Implementing these guidelines into your daily habits means a better chance of preventing disease before it becomes a problem.

Why is heart health important?

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., but heart disease is, in many cases, preventable. By following these guidelines from the AHA, you put yourself in the best position to help your heart stay healthy.

Practicing healthy behaviors and preventive care can help prevent heart disease and stroke – two extreme conditions – and help to lower the chance of developing other diseases and risk factors like obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

It’s much better for your health to prevent these issues in the first place than receive treatment after a major cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.

What are the Essential 8?

The AHA included four health behaviors and four health factors in the Essential 8. The behaviors are things you can modify, while the factors are biometric measures:

Health behaviors

  • Eat better: Include a mix of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, nuts and seeds.
  • Be more active: For adults, that means 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
  • Quit tobacco: This includes eliminating cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping, as well as exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Get healthy sleep: That means seven to nine hours per night for adults.

Health factors

  • Manage weight: Use body mass index (BMI) to gauge healthy weight. Ideal BMI is around 25.
  • Control cholesterol: Your doctor may track your non-HDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol).
  • Manage blood sugar: Your physician will likely track your A1C to check your blood sugar levels.
  • Manage blood pressure: Ideally, blood pressure levels should be less than 120/80 mm Hg.

Why did sleep get added to the Essential 8?

People who have healthy, regular sleep can better manage risk factors like weight and blood pressure which contribute to cardiovascular disease. Practicing good sleep hygiene boosts your chances of a good night’s sleep.

Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • Avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed when they can impact sleep
  • Going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day
  • Keeping your bedroom dark and quiet
  • Removing screens that can distract you or expose you to blue light before bed

What steps can I take to improve and measure my heart health?

In addition to getting good sleep, there are several steps you and your family can take to build healthy habits and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease:

  • Limit alcohol, sodium, added sugars, red meat, processed food and full-fat dairy. Avoid trans fats.
  • Cook at home, where you can better control portions and practice healthier preparations and recipes.
  • Incorporate strength or resistance training a couple of times a week.
  • Move throughout the day, including finding ways to walk more.
  • Make a quit plan to avoid tobacco, including finding ways to deal with stress and identifying support groups.
  • See your physician for regular preventive care to check blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

These factors and behaviors can reinforce one another. For example, regular exercise can help improve sleep at night.

The AHA also created a way to calculate your heart health score, My Life Check, which can identify the areas you can work on to build better habits with tips for each topic.

Find a doctor

Your provider can connect you to care and treatments that can improve your quality of life. If you are looking for a primary care provider, you can search for one who’s right for you in our provider directory.

Download the Providence App

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.

Related resources

Women: Talk to your doctor about your risk for heart disease

5 Not-so-obvious signs that you may have a heart problem

Heart care for life: Brian’s congenital heart disease journey


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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