That makes now the perfect time to figure out just how heart-healthy you are. The American Heart Association (AHA), which sponsors American Heart Month, has tried to make this as simple as possible with its “Life’s Simple 7” test. You can take the assessment here; use the company code “CAREW29” when you sign up for the free test.
The Life’s Simple 7 test asks 17 quick questions to size up your risk of a heart attack or stroke based on these seven factors:
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
- Physical activity
- Body weight
If you have all the info in front of you the evaluation should take only about four minutes. You’ll enter:
- Your gender, age, ethnicity, height & weight
- Whether or not you smoke (or you did and quit)
Those who have never smoked have a lower risk of heart attack or stroke, but the longer ago you quit, the lower your risk.
- Whether or not you have diabetes (type 1 or 2)
According to the AHA, if you’re a type 2 diabetic your risk of a heart attack or stroke is greatly increased.
- Whether you have a history of a heart problem or stroke
Having had an issue with your heart earlier in your life raises your risk of another one.
- How much moderate and vigorous activity you get per week
For general heart health, the AHA suggests at least a half-hour of moderate-intensity activity (anything that gets your heart pumping!) on at least 5 days of the week for a total of 150 minutes weekly. Or you can mix it up, choosing 25 minutes of vigorous cardio activity for a total of 75 minutes, 3 days a week, combined with strength-training at least twice a week.
- How many veggies, fruit, fish, whole grains you eat weekly or daily
The more of these, the better. Plus, cutting out processed foods and those that have added sugar, sodium, saturated fat and trans fats is a very heart-healthy move.
- How many drinks with added sugar you have weekly
A January 2016 study in the AHA journal Circulation found that participants who regularly drank sugar-sweetened beverages had more of a dangerous type of belly fat that’s been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular trouble.
- Your blood pressure
A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120 over less than 80. Higher than that, and your risk for a heart problem rises too.
- Your cholesterol
Your total cholesterol level should ideally be less than 200 mg/dL, says the National Institutes of Health. Lowering saturated fat in your diet, sticking to a healthy weight and staying active will all help keep cholesterol in check, but you may still need to take medication, such as a statin.
- Your blood sugar
A blood glucose range of 126 mg/dL or more from a fasting plasma glucose test qualifies for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes; a range from 100 to 125 mg/dL means you are prediabetic.
Knowing your heart score does matter. Using data from the landmark Framingham Heart Study, the AHA reported in November 2015 that the number of Americans with an ideal cardiovascular score (according to the Life’s Simple 7 test) has fallen considerably in recent years. In 1991 to 1995 8.5% of people had an ideal heart score; that number had dropped to just 5.8% during 2005 to 2008.