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A new study shows the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential 8” can help slow biological aging up to six years. Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images
  • A new study indicates that following “Life’s Essential 8” may slow biological aging.
  • The checklist includes lifestyle changes designed to improve cardiovascular health.
  • In addition to following the Life’s Essential 8 checklist, it is important to work with your healthcare provider.

A study to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023, held between November 11–13 in Philadelphia, reports that having high cardiovascular health as defined by adherence to the AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 checklist may slow biological aging by an average of six years.

It could also lower people’s risk for cardiovascular disease and other diseases associated with aging, but these findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The Life’s Essential 8 checklist includes:

  • getting good sleep
  • abstaining from smoking
  • engaging in regular physical activity
  • eating a healthy diet
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • having healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • keeping blood pressure in the normal range

The researchers examined how well people followed the Life’s Essential 8 checklist to gauge cardiovascular health. The eight measures were averaged, and the score was used to place people in high, moderate, or low cardiovascular health categories.

The team also measured the biological aging process by calculating the study participants’ phenotypic age. Phenotypic age is based on chronological age plus the results of nine blood tests chosen to measure metabolism, inflammation, and organ function.

To determine each person’s phenotypic age acceleration, the difference between their chronological and phenotypic age was calculated to see if they were aging faster or slower relative to their chronological age.

For the 6,500 adults who were involved in the study, the researchers found that people with high cardiovascular health were physiologically younger than their age. On average, their chronological age was 41, yet their biological age was 36.

On the other hand, those with low cardiovascular health were found to be aging faster than expected. These individuals had an average age of 53, yet their average biological age was 57.

Additionally, having the highest Life’s Essential 8 score — meaning the person had high cardiovascular health — was linked with having a biological age that was, on average, six years younger in comparison to the people with the lowest scores.

Moshe Szyf, PhD, who was not involved in the study, is a geneticist and the founder and CEO of HKG Epitherapeutics. He explained that “Biological aging encompasses the array of physiological changes that occur as individuals grow older.”

According to Szyf, current research indicates that these changes are mainly influenced by age-related alterations in gene function. These changes impact the function of the immune system, metabolism, cardiovascular system, and the brain and can potentially have adverse effects on our health.

“Recent studies indicate a strong connection between these changes and epigenetic modifications, particularly age-dependent DNA methylation alterations,” he explained. “DNA methylation entails chemical marks on specific locations in our DNA, which regulate gene function.”

According to Szyf, shifts in the distribution of these marks can affect how genes function, influencing the physiology of organs.

The process of DNA methylation change is often referred to as an “epigenetic clock,” he noted, adding that, while the typical person has a lifespan of about 100 years, there can be variation between individuals.

“This clock can serve as a better reflection of our health state than our age as stated on official identification,” said Szyf.

“The rate at which this clock advances may be partly genetically inherited, but it is increasingly evident that lifestyle, environmental factors, and social influences can also impact the pace of aging,” he added.

“The Life’s Essential 8 habits are believed to influence gene programming, likely through epigenetic mechanisms,” continued Syzf. “These habits engage with the regulatory circuits that change with age, sending crucial signals that can reset epigenetic programs to a more youthful state.”

Syzf further explained that there is evidence to support the idea that lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, and exercise can all modify epigenetic programs.

He noted, however, that it is not known exactly what the mechanism is by which these habits affect DNA methylation and other epigenetic processes.

“This area remains an exciting and active field of research,” he concluded.

According to Shannon Gillespie, PhD, a registered nurse and assistant professor of nursing at The Ohio State University College of Nursing and founding principal investigator of the Maternal-Infant Immunomonitoring Laboratory, the Life’s Essential 8 checklist contains “easy-to-understand, actionable goals.”

“To adopt the ‘essential 8’ over the long term,” said Gillespie, “it’s first important to take note of where you are in your health journey and know that even small changes can make a big difference if you continue to build on them over time.”

Gillespie said it is also important to stay engaged with your healthcare team or make use of community resources in order to gauge your progress.

“Perhaps your blood pressure or blood sugar levels are higher than you’d like,” she said. “That’s a great opportunity to set a goal and develop a plan with your healthcare provider.”

Finally, Gillespie said that knowing that the checklist can change your health for the better can go a long way.

“Use the tool to tailor how you approach health and wellness for your specific needs and to know when to reach out for assistance,” she advised.

The Life’s Essential 8 checklist is a set of eight lifestyle habits that can help you improve your cardiovascular health.

New research also indicates that it may slow biological aging by on average about six years.

The lifestyle changes recommended by the AHA may influence aging by affecting our epigenetic clocks in a positive way.

By following the checklist and working with your healthcare provider, you may increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life.