Study Says 1 in 5 American Adults Have Optimal Heart Health

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
August 26, 2022
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Only about 20 percent of Americans have optimal heart health, according to a new study, which may help explain why heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S.

A research team led by Northwestern University recently took the pulse of overall heart health and found that only 1 in 5 Americans are doing the things they need to for their cardiovascular health.

Researchers relied on years of data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to assess more than 23,400 people between the ages of 2 and 79 who were not pregnant or institutionalized and didn’t have cardiovascular disease. 

Researchers set up a scoring system that ranged from 0 to 100 and was used to assess overall cardiovascular health and the individual components of cardiovascular health -- diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, sleep duration, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure across ages, gender, 
race/ethnicity, family income and depression. 

How Many American Adults Have Cardiovascular Diseases?

Researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life Essential 8TM metrics to quantify the status of cardiovascular health in the U.S., according to a study published in Circulation. Results were used to establish a Life’s Essential score for Americans. A number 80 or over was considered optimal. 

When they calculated the numbers, here’s what researchers found:

  • Only one in five adults has optimal heart health.
  • The average cardiovascular health score was 64.7 for adults and 65.5 for children. 
  • Women averaged 67; men averaged 62. Older Americans tended to have lower scores.
  • 63 percent of Americans scored between 50 and 79; and 18 percent scored below 50.
  • Components of heart health with the lowest scores include diet, physical activity and BMI. Children’s dietary scores were extremely low.

“Obviously, these results aren’t good but they’re telling. And they help explain why as a nation we can’t get in front of heart disease,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director MDVIP.

If you’re concerned about your heart health, talk with your primary care doctor. They can help you assess your cardiovascular health. You can also check out this checklist designed to help you understand the two major areas of heart disease risk – health behaviors and health factors. It also has resources to help you improve the key measures of heart health, helping you lower your risk for heart disease, stroke and other serious conditions. 

How Can Americans Work Toward Healthy Hearts?

Here are some tips to help you lower your risk for developing heart disease:

Eat a heart-healthy diet. More than two-thirds of heart disease-related deaths worldwide have been linked to food choices, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you’re not sure how to clean up your diet, consult a dietician. Chances are, they’ll recommend following a Mediterranean diet, a much heart-friendlier alternative to the standard American diet. Here are some additional tips »

Get regular exercise. Exercise helps lower risk for heart disease, even among people who are genetically pre-dispositioned for developing it. Before you begin a program, consult your physician. If you’re new to working out, they may suggest a walking program. Here are some additional tips »   

Quit smoking. It’s not news that smoking causes heart disease. If you are still smoking, talk to you doctor about quitting. They may suggest a cessation program or prescribe a nicotine replacement therapy. Some people swap smoking for vaping; however, that’s not recommended, here’s why »    

Manage your weight. This is often easier said than done, but it’s very important. Extra weight strains the cardiovascular system and can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes which raise the risk for heart disease. Here’s how to figure out your healthy weight »

Control cholesterol level. High cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits developing along the inside lining of your blood vessels that occlude blood flow through your arteries. But of course, cholesterol isn’t the only problematic blood fat. Here’s what you need to know »

Maintain healthy blood sugar level. High blood sugar levels are associated with diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease. Prolonged high blood sugar levels can damage nerves that control the heart and blood vessels, over time, leading to heart disease.  

Monitor blood pressure. High blood pressure damages arteries, causing them to lose elasticity, which decreases the delivery of blood and oxygen to the heart, raising the risk for chest pain (angina) and coronary heart disease. Since Covid-19 hit, there’s been an uptick in the number of Americans with high blood pressure. The good news is you can help lower your risk for high blood pressure by making some changes to your diet. 

Get enough sleep. Studies suggest that poor sleep can lead to stress and unhealthy behaviors such as skipping workouts and eating junk food, which eventually can affect your heart health. Here are some drug-free tips for better sleep »

When it comes to preventing or managing heart disease, the most important step you can take is to work with your primary care physician. If you don’t have one, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. An MDVIP-affiliated physician can customize a wellness plan for you that focuses on heart health. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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