As If We Needed Another Reason To Adopt The Essential 8 (+)!

We all know we should take that daily walk, eat more vegetables, and keep an eye on our blood pressure, but finding the motivation is sometimes difficult. Now a large study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that all those efforts ultimately pay off in a big way.

Researchers found that when middle-aged adults were closely in line with the so-called AHA;s Life’s Essential 8, they not only lived longer, but better—gaining many extra years free of major ills like heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

Life’s Essential 8 is a set of health habits and goals promoted by the American Heart Association (AHA), and it includes many familiar pieces of advice: Eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, get enough sleep, and keep your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels within healthy ranges. 

The AHA describes Life’s Essential 8 as a “checklist for lifelong good health.” We added a few more Essentials that are, well, essential for well-being – 9+ , and of course, appreciative joy!

The study included over 135,000 middle-aged and older UK adults who were doing well at the outset—dementia-free and with no history of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. At that point, they completed questionnaires on their lifestyle habits, had their weight and blood pressure checked, and underwent blood tests. Researchers used that information to give each participant a Life’s Essential 8 “score,” then divided them into three groups with low, moderate, or high scores.

Over the next dozen years, more than 4,600 study participants died, while many more developed the diseases listed above. But people with high Life’s Essential 8 scores (who were meeting or close to meeting all eight goals) enjoyed a lot more disease-free time.

The advantage was clear when the researchers calculated people’s estimated life expectancy: At the age of 50, women in the high-scoring group could expect to live another 34 years free of major diseases—nearly a full decade longer than women in the low-scoring group. Among men, the benefits were less, but still substantial. At age 50, those in the high-scoring group could expect to live another 28 disease-free years—which was seven more years than men in the low-scoring group.

There is a caveat here. This study was not a clinical trial that put Life’s Essential 8 to the test, so it can’t prove that following the advice will grant you extra years of healthy life. And people in the high-scoring group did generally have higher education and income levels, plus a lower rate of depression, than those in the low-scoring group—factors that could certainly make a difference in a person’s lifespan, or years spent in good health.

That said, the study had another important finding. Even among participants who were socially and economically disadvantaged, a high Life’s Essential 8 score was linked to a longer and healthier life. On a societal level, the researchers say, that’s a strong argument for helping everyone achieve good cardiovascular health.

For the average person, the takeaway is fairly simple: All those healthy habits we know we should maintain may not only lengthen our lives, but give us more time to feel good and enjoy life, too. Cultivating the Essential 8+ habits in your wellness program and organizational culture is beneficial for all!

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