The "Simple 7" steps to help you avoid chronic diseases

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If you want to live a healthier life, focus on achieving seven simple health metrics. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the steps it calls "Life's Simple 7" may lead to significant benefits.

The components that make up "Life's Simple 7" are:

  1. body mass index (BMI)
  2. physical activity
  3. diet
  4. not smoking
  5. blood pressure
  6. cholesterol
  7. blood sugar

The AHA says scoring well in these metrics has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. And now a new study presented at this week's AHA conference in Orlando, Florida, suggests the same list can help prevent many other chronic diseases, as well.

"Although cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and cost in the U.S., the impact of non-cardiovascular diseases in the United States is huge," lead researcher Dr. Khurram Nasir, Director of the Center for Healthcare Advancement & Outcomes at Baptist Health South Florida, told CBS News "Since there is extensive research on the impact of optimal or ideal cardiovascular health related to heart disease, we focused on whether optimal cardiovascular health will also have a favorable impact on non-cardiovascular disease."

Nasir and his team analyzed health data on about 6,800 adults aged 45 to 84 from across the country who were followed for an average of 10 years. Each component of the "Life's Simple 7" metrics was broken down into three categories: ideal, intermediate and poor.

For example, for physical activity, the ideal level consisted of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75-plus minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Intermediate was up to 149 minutes of moderate exercise or up to 74 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. Poor was no exercise at all.

For smoking, someone who never smoked or someone who quit more than 12 months ago would fall into the ideal category, while a former smoker who quit less than a year ago would be considered intermediate. The worst level equated to currently smoking.

Overall, rates of non-cardiovascular diseases were lower as "Life's Simple 7" scores improved. Additionally, the researchers found that compared to those in the poor category, participants in the ideal category had a:

  • 20 percent lower risk for cancer
  • 62 percent lower risk for chronic kidney disease
  • 43 percent lower risk for pneumonia
  • 49 percent lower risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

The researchers concluded that attaining the "Simple 7" metrics may be the key to not only reducing heart disease, but other chronic conditions, too.

"As seen in our study it is a very important public health message that in addition to cardiovascular disease outcomes as shown in the past, we can also now lower the burden of key non cardiovascular outcomes and related outcomes by achieving these simple seven targets," Nasir said.

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    Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com