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A study found that heart-healthy lifestyle habits described in the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8, such as physical activity and quality sleep, are associated with a longer lifespan and more years spent free of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cancer. urbazon/Getty Images
  • The American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 is a concept that defines cardiovascular health based on four modifiable behaviors, such as physical activity and sleep, and four modifiable biometric measures, such as weight, blood glucose, and blood lipid levels, that impact cardiovascular health.
  • The composite cardiovascular health score measured using the aforementioned eight metrics can help clinicians measure and monitor cardiovascular health to prevent or treat cardiovascular diseases.
  • A recent study showed that an optimal composite cardiovascular score based on the Life’s Essential 8 metrics was associated with longer life expectancy free of chronic conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
  • An accompanying study showed that the decline in deaths due to cardiovascular disease contributed significantly to the increase in life expectancy associated with good cardiovascular health.

Two related studies recently presented at the American Health Association (AHA) conference suggest that optimal cardiovascular health (CVH) was associated with a longer chronic disease-free lifespan, reduced cardiovascular mortality, and increased total longevity.

These studies assessed CVH using the criteria defined by Life’s Essential 8, thus underscoring the validity and utility of cardiovascular health scores based on this construct as predictors of life expectancy and cardiovascular diseases (CVD).

Dr. Hao Ma, a biostatistical analyst at the Tulane University Obesity Research Center and an author of one of the studies, said:

“After decades of strong growth, the rise in US life expectancy has stagnated since 2010. The main reason for such a phenomenon is the poor cardiovascular health in the US population. Our study indicates that adhering to a high CVH, defined as the Life’s Essential 8 score, is related to a considerably increased life expectancy. Moreover, our findings lend support to the validity of the newly released Life’s Essentia 8 metrics in assessment and monitoring CVH in the general populations.”

In 2010, the American Heart Association (AHA) developed a prescription for health called Life’s Simple 7, consisting of seven measurable risk factors or metrics that together represented cardiovascular health. The AHA revised Life’Simple 7 to create Life’s Essential 8 in 2022 to improve the measurement and monitoring of cardiovascular health and facilitate cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment.

The eight metrics comprising the construct, Life’s Essential 8 include physical activity, diet, smoking and other forms of nicotine exposure, sleep, body mass index, blood glucose, blood lipids, and blood pressure. Each metric included in Life’s Essential 8 is measured on a continuous scale of 0-100. These individual metrics are used to calculate the composite or cumulative cardiovascular health score that also ranges from 0 to 100 points.

Although life expectancy has increased in the past few decades, it has been accompanied by an increase in the prevalence of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular conditions and cancer. The combined effects of the metrics included in Life’s Essential 8 — such as being more active, quitting tobacco use and managing blood pressure — are associated with increased total life expectancy.

However, studies have not examined the association between the composite cardiovascular health score, calculated as defined by the updated Life’s Essential 8, and total life expectancy and disease-free life span.

Two studies recently presented at the AHA conference assessed whether ideal composite cardiovascular health scores were associated with increased life expectancy in the absence of chronic health conditions and reduced mortality due to cardiovascular diseases.

The first study examined whether the cardiovascular health score was associated with an increase in total life expectancy and life expectancy in the absence of chronic conditions.

The study analyzed data collected by the UK Biobank from more than 136,000 adults residing in the United Kingdom who, at the time of enrollment, did not have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, or dementia and had data on cardiovascular health scores.

The individuals were classified as having poor, intermediate, or ideal cardiovascular health based on the criteria defined by Life’s Essential 8. The researchers found that average life expectancy at 50 years of age was prolonged by 5.2 and 6.3 years in men and women with ideal CVH, respectively, compared with their counterparts with poor CVH.

Individuals with ideal CVH scores also had more years of life free of major chronic conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer, than those with poor CVH. Specifically, men and women with ideal CVH were expected to spend 75.9% and 83.4%, respectively, of their lives in good health, whereas their male and female counterparts with poor CVH were expected to spend 64.9% and 69.4% of their lives free of chronic disease.

Previous studies have shown that low socioeconomic status is associated with lower disease-free life expectancy. In the present study, researchers found that maintaining ideal cardiovascular health helped reduce the impact of low socioeconomic status on disease-free life expectancy.

The second study examined the impact of maintaining ideal cardiovascular health on potential improvements in life expectancy due to a decrease in cardiovascular deaths. The study analyzed data from 23,000 adults participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2018. Using a national death registry, the researchers determined that 1,359 participants died during the average follow-up period of 7.8 years.

Consistent with the first study, participants with ideal cardiovascular health had longer life expectancies than individuals with poor cardiovascular health. Specifically, the life expectancy of men and women with ideal CVH at 50 years of age was an average of 7.5 years and 8.9 years, respectively, longer than their counterparts with poor CVH.

Notably, 41.8% and 44.1% of the increase in life expectancy at 50 years of age in men and women with ideal CVH scores, respectively, could be attributed to a decline in deaths due to cardiovascular disease. Among ethnic groups, the CVH score was also associated with longer life expectancy in White and Black Americans, but not Mexican Americans.

Both studies also had a few limitations. Dr. Ma noted that the data on lifestyle factors such as diet and sleep patterns from the NHANES database were self-reported and hence, prone to errors. Moreover, the metrics used to measure cardiovascular health in both studies were assessed only at baseline, but not during the follow-up period.

Medical News Today also spoke with Dr. Alexandra Lajoie, a noninvasive cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, who was not involved in the study.

“The results of these studies are not surprising. Research continues to show us that healthy lifestyle interventions are good for health outcomes, and often are even more important than prescription medications.”

Dr. Lajoie said it is possible to reverse some of the effects of not living a heart-healthy lifestyle earlier in life, but it’s better to consistently maintain a lifestyle that’s beneficial to one’s health.

“Of course the ideal would be to follow healthy habits from the start, but starting exercise, getting better sleep, and maintaining a healthybody weight improves blood pressure and blood sugar, and consequently reduces cardiovascular event risk, for decades beyond age 50,” she explained. “Quitting smoking is the best [thing] to improve heart health. After that it’s maintaining a regular exercise routine.