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"Life's Essential 8" checklist may significantly slow biological aging

High cardiovascular health seems to slow the pace of biological aging, according to a recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023.

Experts at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center have found that adherence to the “Life’s Essential 8” checklist could equate to a biological age approximately six years younger than a person’s chronological age.

Life’s Essential 8

“Life’s Essential 8” is a checklist developed by the American Heart Association (AHA) aimed at promoting optimal cardiovascular health. 

The 8-item scoring tool includes healthy sleep, not smoking, regular physical activity, healthy diet, healthy body weight, and blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure. An individual’s overall score is calculated using an average of all eight metrics, resulting in scores within three categories: high, moderate or low cardiovascular health.

Focus of the study

The study analyzed over 6,500 adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2015 and 2018. 

The researchers examined the association between heart and brain health and the biological aging process.

Phenotypic age 

Phenotypic age, a measure of physiological age based on nine clinical blood markers, was used as an indicator of biological aging. 

This metric diverges from one’s chronological age to present a more comprehensive picture of health, encompassing factors such as metabolism, inflammation, and organ function.

Dose-dependent association 

“We found that higher cardiovascular health is associated with decelerated biological aging, as measured by phenotypic age. We also found a dose-dependent association – as heart health goes up, biological aging goes down,” said study study senior author Dr. Nour Makarem.

“Phenotypic age is a practical tool to assess our body’s biological aging process and a strong predictor of future risk of disease and death.”

What the researchers learned 

The findings reveal a stark contrast between individuals with high and low cardiovascular health. Those with high health scores exhibited a negative phenotypic age acceleration, indicating a younger physiological state compared to their actual age. 

Conversely, individuals with low scores appeared biologically older than their chronological counterparts.

Importantly, after adjusting for socioeconomic factors, the link between strong cardiovascular health and a younger biological age was consistent. 

Lower risk of death

“Greater adherence to all Life’s Essential 8 metrics and improving your cardiovascular health can slow down your body’s aging process and have a lot of benefits down the line,” said Dr. Makarem.

“Reduced biologic aging is not just associated with lower risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, it is also associated with longer life and lower risk of death.”

Quality of life 

Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, chair of the writing group for Life’s Essential 8 and a past volunteer president of the American Heart Association, reiterated the importance of this discovery, pointing out that a healthy lifestyle can enhance not only the quantity but also the quality of life.

“These findings help us understand the link between chronological age and biological age and how following healthy lifestyle habits can help us live longer. Everyone wants to live longer, yet more importantly, we want to live healthier longer so we can really enjoy and have good quality of life for as many years as possible,” said Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

Study limitations

The study participants represented a diverse demographic, including a balanced gender split and a broad spectrum of ethnic backgrounds. 

However, the researchers acknowledge a limitation: cardiovascular health was measured only once, preventing the analysis of health changes over time and their effects on phenotypic age.

Study implications 

This research holds considerable implications for public health, suggesting that the promotion of “Life’s Essential 8” could be a pivotal strategy in combating age-related diseases and fostering longevity. 

While further research is needed to understand the long-term impacts of cardiovascular health on aging, the study provides a compelling case for the adoption of heart-healthy habits throughout one’s lifespan.

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