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Life's Essential 8

The eight essentials to good heart health

Life's Essential 8 colourful diagram

Health information comes at us thick and fast these days. But the basics of good heart health are more straightforward than you might think.

To get you on the road to good health, the American Heart Association has created Life’s Essential 8 – the eight key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health.

Backed by research, these focus areas cover all the key risk factors that could impact your heart, and your health in general.

Life Essential #1: Eat Better

Changing the way you eat is one of the best things you can do for your health. A nutritious heart-friendly diet contains plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seafood, poultry and lean meats.

While balance is the key, it’s best to limit particular foods like sweetened beverages, high fat and high sugar snack foods, deep-fried foods, foods high in sodium, alcohol, refined carbohydrates and highly-processed foods.

Aim to manage portion sizes, listen to your hunger cues, and implement strategies to reduce mindless snacking.

Life Essential #2: Be More Active

    Moving our bodies has numerous health benefits – both for our hearts and for our general health.

    The current guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most if not all days. Find an activity you enjoy doing and increase the time and intensity of your activity as you progress.

    Don’t have 30 minutes to spare? A few shorter sessions throughout the day can be just as beneficial. Not sure where to start? Walking is the best option for those new to physical activity. It’s free, easy, and can be done with a walking buddy to keep you motivated.

    Life Essential #3: Quit Tobacco

      The dangers of smoking, whether it be traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or vaping, are well known. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to quit.

      The key to success is setting out a plan to stop, coming up with strategies to control the urge to smoke and enlisting support to help get you through it.

      If you fail the first time don’t be discouraged, the more times you try the more likely you are to succeed in the long term.

      Life Essential #4: Get Healthy Sleep

      Good sleep is important for our overall health and wellbeing – and heart health is no different. Too little or too much sleep has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

      Aim for an average of seven to nine hours per day (more for babies and children).

      Improving your sleep hygiene is the key to improving your sleep patterns. This may include:

      Life Essential #5: Manage Body Weight

        Carrying excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, can lead to heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

        The BMI (body mass index) gives a guide of 18.5 to 24.9 BMI as the optimum for good health – though this may fluctuate depending on the individual.

        Another way to keep an eye on your weight is to check your waist circumference. A large waist is considered to be over 80 cm for women and 94 cm for men and is considered a factor for developing metabolic syndrome.

        A healthy weight can be managed through eating well, managing portion sizes and keeping active.

        If you are struggling with weight management, your GP can also offer support.

        Life Essential #6: Control Cholesterol

          Have you had your cholesterol checked recently? If not, now might be the time to see your GP for a blood test.

          A blood test can check your:

          Your GP will explain what your results mean and whether you need to implement strategies to reduce your cholesterol should it be too high.

          To keep your cholesterol levels in check, aim to eat a balanced diet, stay active, quit smoking, and take medication if recommended by your GP.

          Life Essential #7: Manage Blood Sugar

            High levels of blood sugar in the body can cause damage to your heart, along with your kidneys, eyes and nerves. That’s why it’s important to know your fasting blood sugar level, which can be checked through a fasting blood test.

            If you do have high blood sugar, the best way to manage it is eat well, stay active, manage your weight, quit smoking and take medication if prescribed by your GP.

            Life Essential #8: Manage Blood Pressure

              High blood pressure is also strongly linked to heart disease. To reduce your risk, aim to keep your blood pressure at less than 120/80 mm Hg.

              This may be achieved by eating well, staying active, managing your weight, quitting smoking and taking any medication prescribed by your GP.

              Acknowledgement of Country

              The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

              Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years