On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

Let’s Get to the Heart of the Matter: Life’s Simple 7

15 February 2022

Posted in

Did you know that the human heart will beat some 2.5 billion times during the average person’s lifetime? It will move millions of gallons of blood all throughout the body, making sure every cell receives the necessities: oxygen, nutrients, fuel hormones and other essentials. Your strong, steady heartbeat also allows metabolic waste products to be carried away and disposed of. Without a heartbeat, your body’s essential functions simply won’t happen. In fact, permanent brain damage, organ damage or death is likely to occur in a matter of minutes. Generally speaking if someone is without a heartbeat for 20 minutes, the brain suffers irreparable damage. Managing heart health is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health.

The American Heart Association has developed a group of seven factors we can evaluate and work on improving, if need be, to minimize our risk of heart disease. This list has been dubbed “Life’s Simple 7.”

They’re all interrelated. To manage weight, eating more vegetables and fruits can aid in success. At a healthy weight, our blood pressure will generally decrease and, if we’re eating plenty of healthy foods, so will our cholesterol and blood sugar. That’s why taking even one step truly matters.


Manage blood pressure. Your doctor’s office measures and monitors your blood pressure, and you can, too. Understanding what elevated blood pressure means and how to keep tabs on it can help you reduce your chance of stroke or heart disease. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is categorized in stages. Elevated blood pressure starts at 120/80 mmHg and up.

Some ways to get your blood pressure in check include losing extra weight; exercising regularly (about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week); eating a healthy diet; reducing your sodium intake; drinking alcohol in moderation (about one drink a day for women and two a day for men at most); cutting back on caffeine; stopping smoking; and reducing stress.

Control cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that comes from two sources, food and the body. Elevated cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries that can cause heart disease and stroke. Your doctor can check your cholesterol levels and help decide if certain lifestyle modifications are needed or if a cholesterol-lowering medication is right for you.

Reduce blood sugar. Carbohydrates and sugars turn into glucose, and consistently elevated blood glucose levels can cause problems for your body. Type 2 diabetes is a condition where glucose builds up in the blood and the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin, which helps lower blood glucose. Whether you have diabetes or not, learning how to control your blood glucose levels by monitoring what you eat and drink can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Get active. Exercise is proven to improve mood, improve your muscle strength, lower risk of diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, help you maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your bones, reduce the risk of falling and injuries from falls as you age and keep your joints healthy.

Exercise benefits brain health almost immediately. Right after a session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, short-term feelings of anxiety are decreased in adults. Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better.

The CDC suggests you work your way up to 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (for example, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week). 

Eat better. You can make small changes to your dietary patterns that will have big impacts. Add in more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins and lean animal proteins. Limit sweetened beverages, processed meats, refined carbohydrates, full-fat dairy products and other processed foods. Cooking at home with whole foods is an easy way to add the right ingredients to your diet.

Lose weight. Monitor the calories that you eat and increase the number of calories you burn. Continuing to stay active and eating better, in addition to controlling your portion sizes, are great ways to burn more calories than you eat, ultimately leading to healthy weight loss.

According to Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, excess weight, particularly when it rises to the level of obesity, diminishes almost every aspect of your health, from reproductive and respiratory function to memory and mood. Obesity, which is more dangerous, increases the risk of deadly diseases like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers through a variety of pathways, some as straightforward as the mechanical stress of carrying extra pounds and some involving complex changes in hormones and metabolism. 

Obesity and overweight decrease the quality and length of life and increase everyone’s healthcare costs. The good news, though, is that weight loss can curtail some obesity-related risks. Even losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of one’s body weight can bring meaningful health benefits to people who are obese, even if they never achieve a healthy BMI, or even if they only begin to lose weight later in life.

Stop smoking. This is a biggie. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. and it is linked to about one third of all deaths from heart disease and 90 percent of lung cancers. Quitting smoking will not be easy, and that’s no accident. Big Tobacco has spent decades making cigarettes difficult to quit and as addictive as possible. As the CDC puts it, to quit you must get your brain used to not having nicotine in it. And that’s hard. 

Nicotine is the most addictive drug in tobacco. It’s been proven to be as addictive (and maybe more so) than cocaine and heroin. That makes quitting really hard. Cigarettes are deviously and brilliantly designed to deliver nicotine to your brain at top speed. Inside your brain, within about ten seconds, nicotine triggers the release of chemicals that make you feel good. The more nicotine you take in, the more your brain gets used to having nicotine in it. It gets worse. Nicotine changes how your brain works, and before long it seems like you need nicotine just to feel normal.

When you remove nicotine from the equation, your brain feels off-kilter, unsettled and irritable. The CDC says that as a result, you might get anxious or upset. You might have a hard time concentrating or sleeping, have strong urges to smoke, or just feel generally uncomfortable. That’s called withdrawal and it can last for weeks, until your brain becomes reacquainted with being nicotine-free.

Some of the other chemicals found in cigarettes are:

  • Acetone (found in nail polish remover)
  • Acetic Acid (found in vinegar)
  • Ammonia (found in toilet cleaner)
  • Arsenic (found in rat poison)
  • Benzene (found in rubber cement)
  • Butane (found in lighter fluid)
  • Cadmium (found in battery acid)
  • Carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust)
  • Formaldehyde (found in embalming fluid)
  • Hexamine (found in lighter fluid)
  • Lead (found in batteries)
  • Naphthalene (found in moth balls)
  • Methane (found in sewer gas)
  • Methanol (found in rocket fuel)
  • Tar (found in paint)
  • Toluene (found in industrial solvent)

Quitting requires planning, so make a plan to quit: 

SET a quit date within the next seven days. 

CHOOSE a method: cold turkey or gradually. 

DECIDE if you need help from a healthcare provider, nicotine replacement or medication. 

PREPARE for your quit day by planning how to deal with cravings and urges.

QUIT on your quit date.


Embrace Life’s Simple Seven and you’ll soon reap its rewards. If you have questions about how to better care for your heart, talk to your primary care provider. For more health and wellness content, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.



Frequently Asked Heart-Health Questions

Exercise and Heart Health

Benefits of Quitting Smoking During the COVID-19 Pandemic