The American Heart Association (AHA) last month updated their cardiovascular health checklist to include eight key measures—adding sleep duration to the list of health and lifestyle factors that could help lower the risk for major health issues, including heart disease and stroke.
AHA adds sleep duration to its cardiovascular health checklist
In 2010, AHA defined a list of health behaviors and factors that have been widely used to measure cardiovascular health. Last month, AHA updated the list, previously known as the "Life's Simple 7" questionnaire, to include sleep duration after 12 years of research determined sleep's vital role in heart health.
According to AHA, adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night to maintain optimal cardiovascular health. Children ages 5 and under should get between 10 and 16 hours of sleep, while children ages 6 to 12 require 9 to 12 hours. Teenagers ages 13 to 18 need between 8 and 10 hours each night.
"The new metric of sleep duration reflects the latest research findings: sleep impacts overall health, and people who have healthier sleep patterns manage health factors such as weight, blood pressure or risk for Type 2 diabetes more effectively," said AHA president Donald Lloyd-Jones.
"In addition, advances in ways to measure sleep, such as with wearable devices, now offer people the ability to reliably and routinely monitor their sleep habits at home," Lloyd-Jones added.
AHA names 8 key components of cardiovascular health
AHA's updated list, now called "Life's Essential 8," is divided into two major categories—health behaviors and health factors.
According to AHA, the health behaviors that measure cardiovascular health are:
- Diet: AHA recommends establishing a healthy eating pattern that includes whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, and seeds. They also suggest cooking with non-tropical oils like olive and canola.
- Physical activity: Each week, adults need two and a half hours of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity. Kids should spend 60 minutes exercising every day, with can include play and structured activities.
- Nicotine exposure: According to AHA, inhaled nicotine products, including traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and vaping products, are the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S., including roughly one-third of all deaths from heart disease. Notably, around a third of U.S. children ages 3 to 11 are exposed to nicotine products through secondhand smoke or vaping.
- Sleep duration: The average adult requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Children ages 5 and under need 10 to 16 hours, including naps, while children ages 6 to 12 require 9-12 hours. Teenagers ages 13 to 18 should get 8 to 10 hours a night. According to AHA, adequate sleep can boost healing, improve brain function, and decrease the risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease and stroke.
The health factors that indicate optimal cardiovascular health are:
- Weight: According to AHA, optimal body mass index (BMI) is 25. Achieving and maintaining a healthy BMI has many health benefits.
- Cholesterol levels: High levels of non-HDL cholesterol, often referred to as "bad" cholesterol, can cause heart disease.
- Blood sugar: Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. When testing blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c can provide a better long-term metric for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes.
- Blood pressure: According to AHA, maintaining blood pressure within acceptable ranges can help keep you healthier longer. The optimal level for blood pressure is under 120/80 mm Hg. Levels above 130-139 mm Hg systolic pressure or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic pressure are considered high. (Shukla, Medical News Today, 6/30; Guzman, The Hill, 6/30; SciTechDaily, 6/29; American Heart Association, "Life's Essential 8," accessed 7/12; Ely, Daily Mail, 6/29; Searing, Washington Post, 7/12; Marples, CNN, 6/29)