Where Science Meets Muse

Let’s Design Healthier Hearts – American Heart Association Takes an Innovative Step

Posted by Plish on January 22, 2010


In an effort to increase cardiovascular health in the US and promote prevention of heart disease, the American Heart Association has taken an innovative step and defined ideal cardiovascular health using seven easy to understand measures.  In concert with this definition they’ve also created an aid to help people in understanding their cardiovascular health by launching a monitoring tool over at My Life Check

“A simple step-by-step approach has now been developed that delivers on the hope we all have – to live a long, productive, healthy life. We call it Life’s Simple 7,” said Dr. Clyde W. Yancy, President of the American Heart Association.

What are the seven things we should all be monitoring?

  1. Never smoked or quit more than one year ago;
  2. Body mass index less than 25 kg/m2;
  3. Physical activity of at least 150 minutes (moderate intensity) or 75 minutes (vigorous intensity) each week;
  4. Four to five of the key components of a healthy diet consistent with current American Heart Association guideline recommendations;
  5. Total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL;
  6. Blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg;
  7. Fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL.

Any improvements in any of these will help people to have healthier hearts and prevent heart disease.

Continues Dr. Yancy,

“Prevention should be a cornerstone of healthcare reform, a priority of our state and local legislatures, incorporated into our workplace policies, in our schools and our community environments, and a big part of our everyday lives. The American Heart Association is clearly focusing not only on reducing the burden of disease but, importantly, on prevention of disease. That should matter to everyone.”

Hmmm…there could be the makings of a problem here…actually two problems. 

First, we all know that heart disease can put heavy burdens on society, but we also know, though we don’t like to admit it, that prevention brings its own burdens.  These burdens aren’t measured in numbers or dollar signs.  Instead they’re insidious and latent, expressing themselves in apathy and rebellion.  These burdens can’t be legislated or corrected through corporate or national policies and  attempting to do so only increases non-compliance in the spirits of people.

Second, people  in general don’t like monitoring themselves (the ones that do probably aren’t in health trouble anyway) .  Specifically, following Life’s Simple 7 requires people to monitor their:

  • Food
  • Body fat
  • Physical activity
  • Blood chemistry 
  • (I’m leaving smoking out because either you do or you don’t). 

Doesn’t sound too exciting does it?

The unattractiveness of this approach of self-monitoring probably had its origins in the original problem statement.

While I wasn’t there for its formulation I would  guess that the problem statement that governed the formation of Life’s Simple 7  probably went something like, “Based on current research, what elements can the typical person monitor and change so that the level of heart disease drops, and people can live healthier lives?”

When you look at the phrase, “live healthier lives” through the lense of scientific research, you instead see, “have healthier cardiovascular systems.”  Nonetheless, because “live healthier lives” was in the problem statement, these 7 elements were called Life’s Simple 7.  It’s clean and to the point and it’s what it’s all about right?


It’s actually  “Cardiovascular Health’s Simple 7,”   not “Life’s Simple 7.” 

Cardiovascular Health’s Simple 7 doesn’t sound sexy does it?  It sounds TOTALLY disconnected from life and people aren’t going to get excited about it.

Therein lies the problem: dis-con-nected from


This isn’t really 7 simple secrets to life because life isn’t about monitoring yourself and drawing blood.

Life is about living, about experience, about family, about love, about exhilaration, about wonder!

It’s about taste and touch, sight, smells and sound!

Designing healthy hearts should ultimately be less about looking at our selves and more about looking at the world and those we love!!

There’s the real (wicked)  problem!  How do we empower people to live lives of wonder, increasing their cardiovascular health without their having to really pay attention to what they’re doing?

In the realm of the design of our environments, there are  some excellent suggested guidelines in “Healthy by Design,” from South Australia’s Office for Recreation and Sport. 

But, could similar transparent guidelines be put in place for food, entertainment, relationships, work, etc.?  Can lifestyle milieus be designed that encourage looking out on life as opposed to looking in to our bodies?

I have no doubt. 

I’m looking forward to your ideas and suggestions!


2 Responses to “Let’s Design Healthier Hearts – American Heart Association Takes an Innovative Step”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Plishka, Kristi Miller Durazo. Kristi Miller Durazo said: RT @plish: Let's Design Healthier Hearts, American Heart Assn Takes Innovative Step: http://wp.me/pkQcg-sk {Thanks for the conversation} […]

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