‘Life's Simple 7’ Steps: Lowering Your Risk for Both Heart Disease, Cancer

The American Heart Association (AHA) made a stunning statement this month: Nearly half of American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. The conclusion was based a new report published in the AHA’s journal, Circulation, which provides a glimpse of the nation’s health every February (Heart Month).

The “nearly half” statement by the AHA has placed a brighter spotlight on heart disease, which remains the No. 1 killer of all Americans, claiming more than 840,000 lives in 2016. Cancer is the No. 2 killer. But the American Cancer Society last month announced that a steady, 25-year decline has resulted in a 27 percent drop in the overall cancer death rate in the United States, translating to approximately 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths between 1991 and 2016.

(Watch now: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Theodore Feldman, M.D., medical director of prevention and community health at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, and Jane Mendez, M.D., chief of breast surgery at Miami Cancer Institute, about modifiable risk factors that can help prevent heart disease and cancer.)


The decline in the death rates for both heart disease and cancer is due in large part to reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment. But these rates are still too high since many risk factors for both heart disease and cancer are modifiable.

The American Heart Association is intensifying its campaign to educate U.S. adults about their ability to control risk factors for heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. The organization calls it “Life’s Simple 7” plan. It covers the seven key areas of prevention: Managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, exercising regularly, healthy eating, weight management and not smoking.

As it turns out, the finding that 48 percent of the population, or 121.5 million people as of 2016, have some type of heart disease was heavily influenced by stricter guidelines for high blood pressure announced in 2017. That’s when the AHA and American College of Cardiology lowered the acceptable healthy level of blood pressure from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg.

Overall, cardiovascular disease encompasses coronary heart disease (narrowing of the arteries), heart failure, stroke and high blood pressure. If you exclude high blood pressure, heart disease prevalence among adults in the U.S. is 9 percent overall (24.3 million as of 2016).

Healthy Lifestyles and Cancer Prevention
One new study after another is finding that healthy lifestyle factors can also prevent many cancers. In particularly, obesity is now linked to several cancers, including endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, multiple myeloma, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers. And young adults are seeing higher rate increases in these cancers linked to obesity.

“What we’ve come to realize is that if you have an ideal lifestyle, as it relates to nutrition, physical activity, not smoking, ideal weight, and managing your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, then you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by almost 90 percent over a subsequent 10-year period,” said Theodore Feldman, M.D., medical director of prevention and community health at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at Baptist Health South Florida.

Healthy lifestyles are increasingly tied to a lower risk of cancer, Dr. Feldman emphasizes.

“Interestingly,” he adds, “those same seven metrics, which has been coined as ‘Life’s Simple 7’ by the American Heart Association, has been associated in a variety of studies with not only the likelihood of reducing the chance of getting heart disease, but reducing the rate of many forms of cancer — as well as diabetes, obesity and chronic lung disease — by 50 percent to 80 percent.”

Increasingly, clinical studies are confirming the role that a person’s weight plays in the growth of cancer cells. Jane Mendez, M.D., chief of breast surgery at Miami Cancer Institute, explains the link between fat cell and a higher risk for breast cancer.

Dr. Mendez reminds her patients of the significance of keeping an ideal weight and keeping up with a regular exercise routine.

“That’s why it’s important to exercise as a means of prevention when you’re dealing with breast cancer because there’s absolutely a link between the two (being overweight and breast cancer)” she says.

Life’s Simple 7
Here is a recap of “Life’s Simple 7” from the American Heart Association:

Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer. Learn how to manage your blood pressure.

Control Cholesterol
High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. Learn how to control your cholesterol.

Reduce Blood Sugar
Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. Learn how to reduce your blood sugar.

Get Active
Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life. Learn how to get active and move more.

Eat Better
A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy – for life! Learn how to eat better.

Lose Weight
When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. You give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and you help yourself feel better, too. Learn how to lose or manage weight.

Stop Smoking
Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a much higher risk of developing lung or other cancers. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.