Life’s Essential 8

The American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 (LE8) is an updated approach to measuring cardiovascular health. It adds sleep as a component, creates a new guide to assess diet, accounts for vaping and secondhand smoke, adjusts cholesterol and blood sugar measures and scores each of the eight components to average an overall heart health score on a scale from 0-100.


Food and nutrition play a major role in life, fueling the body and brain to perform all the tasks we do, from breathing and talking to playing and learning. It also carries cultural, social and economic weight. The right diet helps you manage disease and improve your health. Keeping a healthy diet means eating the right amount of the right foods, and avoiding those that are unhealthy for you. But it also means enjoying some treats now and then if you like, as long as they are part of a balanced plan.

Physical Activity

A wide range of physical activity including walking, cycling, playing sports and engaging in active leisure activities is good for your health. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and several cancers and improve your mental health. It can help you manage your emotions and improve your mood and self-esteem. It can also increase your energy levels and make you feel more alert and refreshed. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, or a combination, per week to maintain or improve your health. Regular physical activity is also linked to better body composition and muscle strength.

Nicotine Exposure

Nicotine exposure has long been associated with health risks. It is a known neurotoxin that has harmful effects on the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. It is also highly addictive and can lead to a variety of negative consequences, including addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Smoking cigarettes is the primary source of nicotine exposure. Other sources include chewing tobacco, pipes, cigars, snuff, and hookahs. Adolescents are especially vulnerable to the harms of nicotine exposure. This is because the brain is still in its developmental stages at this time, and nicotine acts directly on the areas involved in cognitive control, attention, and decision-making.


Sleep is the time your body and brain rest, recharge and repair. Without enough sleep, you can have trouble with concentration, memory, and learning. Sleep also helps with recovery from illness or injury. It supports the proteins and cells in your immune system that fight off germs, so they won’t come back again. In addition, getting sufficient sleep helps you maintain a healthy weight. It keeps your blood sugar balanced and your cholesterol in check, both of which are important factors in avoiding heart disease. It also allows your muscles and bones to grow and repair, which is vital for your overall health and wellbeing.

Body Mass Index

Body mass index (BMI) is a quick, easy way to assess your weight and is often used as part of a health checkup. However, BMI is not a reliable measure of body fatness or health and should only be used as one part of an overall healthy lifestyle plan. A high BMI increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis. It also raises your risk of certain cancers, including esophageal, pancreatic, colorectal, breast and endometrial cancer. The American Heart Association recommends that adult men and women maintain a BMI of less than 25 kg/m2 or a body fat percentage of at least 10% for optimal cardiovascular health. Keeping an appropriate BMI is also associated with lower risks of developing diabetes, according to a study published in Circulation.

Blood Lipids

Lipids, or fats, are the waxy fatty molecules that provide fuel for the body and store energy. They also send signals through the body and help to form cell membranes that hold cells together. They are essential for life, and too much of one type of lipid can lead to health problems like heart disease or high blood pressure. Your doctor will usually use a blood test to measure your lipid levels, also known as a lipid panel. Cholesterol is the main lipid found in your blood. It is made by the liver and is used to make cell membranes, and it helps to produce vitamins D and certain hormones. Triglycerides are another type of lipid found in your blood. They are fats that are absorbed by your digestive tract, transported to the liver and stored in your body. When your blood lipid levels are too high, you have what is called dyslipidemia. This is a common risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease or stroke. Your doctor may recommend a lipid panel as part of a comprehensive plan to manage your health.

Blood Glucose

Glucose is one of the main sources of fuel in your body. It comes from the foods you eat and is used by all of your body’s cells to make energy. Your body’s glucose levels are normally controlled by a hormone called insulin. But if your body doesn’t

make enough insulin or the insulin it does make doesn’t work properly, then you may have diabetes. Blood sugar testing is a way to find out if you have diabetes, and what your target range should be. Usually, you’ll have fasting plasma (blood) glucose levels tested before and after you drink a liquid that contains glucose. Maintaining healthy, balanced blood sugar is important for your overall health and avoiding long-term diseases like diabetes. While no single food, supplement, or workout can be the magic bullet, a whole-body approach is key to maintaining a healthy level of glucose throughout your lifetime.

Blood Pressure


Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of the blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. It rises and falls throughout the day, depending on your activity. If your blood pressure is too high, it can damage your arteries and heart. It can also increase your risk of stroke and other health problems. You should always have your blood pressure checked on the same arm each time. It is also important to measure it in a quiet place and not when you are upset or in pain. If your systolic (first) blood pressure reading is 120 mm Hg or higher, you should seek medical attention immediately. Rising systolic blood pressure can be a sign of stiffer arteries or a buildup of plaque in your arteries.

Heart Attack and Heart Failure

We’ve all heard the dreaded names ­ heart attack and heart failure. So what sets these two frightening conditions apart?

Heart Attack

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when a blood clot develops at the site of plaque in a coronary artery, suddenly cutting off most or all blood supply to that part of the heart muscle. If the blood supply is not restored quickly, the heart muscle will begin to die due to a lack of oxygen. This can cause permanent damage to the heart, and, in the worst cases, death.

Heart attacks should not be confused with heart failure. Heart failure is typically a chronic, long-standing condition, while heart attacks generally come on suddenly.


Know the Symptoms

Symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. If you think you may be having a heart attack, seek medical help and call 911 immediately.

The National Heart Attack Alert Program notes these major symptoms of a heart attack:

To improve your heart health and prevent a heart attack, maintain a healthy weight, exercise, quit smoking, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure and cholesterol, and visit your doctor or cardiac specialist for regular medical checkups.

Heart Failure

Heart failure (congestive heart failure) occurs when the heart fails to pump enough blood to maintain the needs of the body. A highly common condition, it affects an estimated 5 million people in the United States each year.

The best way to prevent heart failure is to manage risk factors that lead to it, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, obesity, and diabetes. Lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery can all relieve and improve symptoms.

Heart failure is a serious condition, but when the symptoms are managed with proper treatment, patients with heart failure can lead a normal, active life.

Getting Help

While heart failure can be less dramatic than a heart attack, it can also be just as lethal. If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from either heart failure or a heart attack, seek medical care immediately.


Cardiomyopathy is a broad term that refers to a disease of the heart muscle. The heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick, or abnormally rigid, and as cardiomyopathy progresses, the heart becomes weaker. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart rhythm problems, heart failure, and sudden cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy generally get worse as the disease progresses. In some cases, patients may not experience any symptoms in the early stages.

Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet and legs
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Concerned that you might have cardiomyopathy? Contact us immediately. Treatment can help halt the progression of the disease.

Heart Rhythm Conditions

Heart rhythm conditions are often a sign of an underlying issue, and may even pose problems in themselves. So what are some of the most common heart rhythm conditions?

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF) occurs when the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, begin to beat out of sync with the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart. Characterized by a rapid rhythm, AF reduces the heart’s effectiveness at pumping blood. As a result, blood clots can form in the heart chambers, potentially reaching the brain and causing a stroke or heart failure.

AF is typically due to an existing heart condition. Other causes include high blood pressure, heart attack and coronary artery disease. Dizziness, feeling out of breath, tiredness, a feeling that the heart is racing or fluttering, uneven heartbeat, and chest pain are all common symptoms.

Atrial fibrillation is common in older adults and may not present obvious symptoms. Seeing a doctor at the first onset of AF symptoms is important to avoid serious complications. The typical goals of treatment are restoring rhythm to as close to normal as possible and preventing the formation of blood clots.



Arrhythmia is a problem with the rhythm of the heartbeat-beating too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Many arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be life­-threatening, especially since a lack of blood flow to the body can damage the brain, heart and other organs.

Noticeable symptoms of arrhythmia include fainting, dizziness, heart palpitations, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. Arrhythmia can be caused by heart disease, stress, smoking, heavy alcohol use and certain medications.

Treatment for arrhythmias depends on the type and severity of irregular heart rhythm. In most cases, people with arrhythmias can live normal, healthy lives, but never take the risk of a ‘wait-and­-see’ approach.

Remember, anything other than your usual, steady heartbeat could be a sign of a dangerous heart condition. Always discuss irregular heartbeat symptoms with your cardiologist.


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted. When the brain lacks sufficient blood flow for a long enough period of time, brain damage or even death can result. Immediate medical attention and early treatment are critical to helping minimize damage to brain tissue and improve the outcome.

Types of Strokes

There are two major types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes, the most common type, occur when a blood clot blocks the arteries leading to the brain and cuts off blood flow. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in part of the brain becomes weak and bursts open, causing blood to leak into the brain.

At the first sign of a stroke, patients should seek medical care immediately. Symptoms of a stroke vary, but typically occur suddenly and include:

What Causes Strokes?

Smoking is the number one risk factor for strokes, and indeed, making basic lifestyle changes like quitting smoking can significantly reduce your overall risk. These include:

  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • Cholesterol and blood pressure management
  • Reducing alcohol intake

Aside from lifestyle changes, managing any underlying health conditions, including hypertension and diabetes, also reduce your risk of stroke. If you are concerned about your stroke risk, talk to your cardiologist about what more you could be doing to keep your risk low.