Essential Eight of Life

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year. CVDs refer to a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and include coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Figures show that more than four out of five CVD deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes.

One of several risk factors for heart disease is age. However, a study published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that regardless of age, heart-healthy behaviors and risk factor management can reduce people’s risk for heart disease and death from any cause, including heart disease and stroke.

Researchers behind the study found that heart-healthy behaviors, which the American Heart Foundation labels as ‘Life’s Essential 8’, were linked with reduced cellular aging resulting in a younger biological age — meaning that their cells were healthier than might be expected for their chronological age.

The study’s goal was to learn whether a process called ‘DNA methylation’, which is known to regulate gene expression, could influence cell aging and people’s risk of dying. DNA methylation is a biological process by which the addition of a methyl group to a DNA alters the activity of that DNA segment. DNA methylation is essential for normal development and is associated with a number of key biological processes, including aging.

The research team examined data for 5,682 adults, over half of whom were women (56%), and with an average age of 56. The participants were interviewed in addition to undergoing physical exams and laboratory tests. They were also assessed using the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 tool.

Life’s Essential 8 includes four behaviors: Nightly hours spent sleeping; Whether the person smokes; How much physical activity they engage in; And, how well they eat. The eight behaviors also include four clinical measurements: Body mass index (BMI); Blood sugar; Cholesterol; and Blood pressure.
Based on all of the eight ‘Life Essential’ factors, the researchers assigned people a score on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the best possible score. The researchers also used four other tools to estimate biological age based on DNA methylation and a fifth tool to gauge people’s genetic tendency toward rapid biological aging. Study participants were followed for the next 11-14 years to see if they developed cardiovascular disease or died.

After the investigators analyzed the data, they found that the higher that people scored on Life’s Essential 8, the lower their risk was for developing cardiovascular disease. Each 13-point increase in their score yielded a reduction in developing CVD by 35 percent, dying from cardiovascular disease by 36 percent, and dying from any cause by 29 percent.

Also, those who were genetically more at risk for faster biological aging were more greatly impacted by their Life’s Essential 8 score. The study authors believe this might potentially be due to DNA methylation. They estimated that about 20 percent of the link between Life’s Essential 8 and cardiovascular disease outcomes was caused by how these factors affect DNA methylation.

On the other hand, in people with greater genetic risk, this figure was nearly doubled. The study suggested that the eight lifestyle factors may support cellular health by preventing DNA methylation and therefore reversing the aging process.

Several factors were shown to bring about positive changes in DNA methylation. These included exercise, which has been shown to induce positive changes in DNA methylation patterns, thereby slowing aging. Eating a balanced diet is also crucial. Certain nutrients, such as polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids, found in balanced diets have been proven to modulate gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms.

Experts recommend that to adopt more of Life’s Essential 8 behaviors, people should begin by taking small, manageable steps toward achieving their goal. For example, try to walk, cycle, or swim at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes a week. To achieve this goal, it is advisable to break the time into 30-minute sessions and do it five times a week. Also try incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine, for example, by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking on your lunch break.

When it comes to diet, whole foods — such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like those found in nuts and avocados — should make up a major part of the diet. Furthermore, cutting down on processed foods, sugary drinks, as well as avoiding consuming excessive amounts of red meat may support heart health

It is also essential to incorporate stress management into your daily routine. Activities like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help relieve anxiety. Stress levels can also be reduced by spending several minutes every day practicing mindfulness, which improves overall well-being.

Another important measure is to quit smoking. Get medication through smoking cessation programs or counseling services with nicotine replacement therapies being used as a means. Healthcare providers and communities may provide substantial help toward quitting smoking successfully.

Finally, it is important to see your doctor regularly to check your total cholesterol, HDL-C (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or the ‘good cholesterol’), and blood glucose.

By slowly assimilating these habits into their daily life, people can greatly improve their cardiovascular health and perhaps reverse parts of cellular aging or at least age gracefully.

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