The evidence is compelling. Living a heart-healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce not only your risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure but it also leads to lower risks of the common cancers afflicting us (lung, breast, colon, prostate) and delays the age at which Alzheimer’s disease becomes symptomatic.

You would think that this well-known information would mean that most of us do everything we can to meet these critically important health goals. In January of this year, in the hopes of reducing the population’s risk of heart disease by 20 percent, the American Heart Association published “Life’s Simple 7,” an article detailing the steps needed to reduce your risk of heart disease. 

These are: 

1) Maintaining an ideal body weight, measured by the body mass index that should be between 18.5 and 24.5. 

2) Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly. 

3) Quitting smoking at least 1 year ago or never smoking. 

4) Maintaining your total cholesterol below 200. 

5) Having a blood pressure consistently below 120/80. 

6) Assuring that you do not have diabetes or prediabetes by keeping a fasting blood pressure below 100. 

7) And finally consuming at least 4 or the 5 AHA recommendations for a heart-healthy diet. 

The five dietary components include: eating at least 4 and a half cups of fruits and vegetables daily, eating oily fish such as salmon, trout or herring at least twice weekly, limiting intake of sweets and simple sugars, having 3 or 4 servings of whole grains daily, eating less than 1500 mg of sodium daily.

Amazingly, recent research from the University of Vermont showed that less than 30 percent of 18,000 Americans met fewer than three of the seven AHA recommendations and less than 20 percent met all of “life’s simple 7,” which assures the greatest chance of avoiding heart disease. This information was presented at this year’s national AHA meeting. In this study, participants over the age of 45 answered detailed phone questionnaires that evaluated their risks of heart disease and the number of the seven steps followed over an almost five-year period. Those who met two or three of life’s simple steps had a 36 percent reduction in risk of death. Those who met either four or five of the seven steps were 46 percent less likely to die, and those who met all seven had a reduction in risk of death by 54 percent.

The most encouraging aspect of this information is that meeting some or all of these seven steps is relatively easy and that all causes of death are reduced by just being healthy. Clearly only the truly compulsive of us will meet all seven, but remember that the reduced risk of death if you meet four of the seven is not much lower than meeting them all. The best advice is to do your best to meet as many of these steps as possible and do not fret if you can’t. 

To achieve these goals, the health profession must refocus their efforts from treating acute and chronic disease to health promotion and disease prevention. I strongly believe that educating my patients on how to stay healthy and to understand any illness they have is the key to better care and should be the cornerstone of health care reform.  To achieve these goals, I believe strongly in “couple care.” Husbands and wives should see their doctor together, and if single, consider bringing a friend, relative or partner. 

As a couple, my patients may elect to be seen by their physician individually or together. We prefer the latter as understanding each other’s health problems avoids misunderstandings and offers a greater chance of following direction. After the medical evaluation, the couple receives extensive nutrition, stress and exercise counseling that is followed by an ongoing education program to learn how to stay healthy and how to navigate the health care system should an illness occur. 

Consider seeing your doctor as a couple. If married, bring your spouse, if single, a relative or friend. Together, the chances of success are greater than if seen individually.  As the New Year approaches, recommit yourself to health and happiness; the benefits are truly enormous..

Dr. David Lipschitz is the director of the Dr. David Health and Wellness Center in Little Rock. To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz, visit www.drdavidhealth.com