Our hearts are the engines of our body, directing blood and oxygen to vital organs. Losing function in this engine can affect the entire system, if even for a moment, and this puts a person at risk for an early death. For this reason, researchers from the American Heart Association (AHA) have put together “Life’s Simple 7,” a list of ways to make your heart healthier and lower your risk of heart failure.

If patients followed the AHA’s recommendations, which were published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, they could lower their risk of heart failure by more than 50 percent. "Even though there is awareness about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, many people don't act on those messages," said the study’s lead author Vanessa Xanthakis, professor of medicine and biostatistics at Boston University, in a press release. "This study points to the importance of knowing your numbers and speaking to your doctor about improving your score on each health metric and trying to get as close to ideal status as possible."

For the study, researchers followed 3,201 participants (with an average age of 59) for more than 12 years. They found those who followed “Life’s 7” the closest were able to lower their risk of heart failure by more than 50 percent, while those who followed only three of the steps were able to cut their risk by 23 percent. Over the course of the study, 188 participants developed heart failure.

In the United States, roughly 5.7 million adults have experienced heart failure, which occurs when there’s a reduction in blood and oxygen flow to the body. Each year there are an additional 550,000 new heart failure cases, according to the Cleveland Clinic — many people can lower their risk before it’s too late.

Among these risks are smoking tobacco and obesity. Worldwide, exposure to first and secondhand tobacco smoke is among the top three leading risk factors for disease, causing 6.2 million deaths in 2010. Roughly 69 percent of people who had a heart attack — one manifestation of heart failure — also had high blood pressure. Meanwhile, more than one-third of Americans are obese, and only about 27 percent of high school students meet physical activity requirements (60 minutes a day). The lack of effort to reduce heart disease rates is prevalent through age groups.

Xanthakis said the “Life’s 7” list “is a useful metric for a healthy lifestyle that may not only help you reduce your chances of heart attack and stroke, but also of developing heart failure in the future.”

7 Steps To A Healthier Heart

1. Manage Blood Pressure

2. Control Cholesterol

3. Reduce Blood Sugar

4. Get Physically Active

5. Eat Better

6. Lose Weight

7. Stop Smoking

Source: Xanthakis V, Nayor M, Enserro DM, and Vasan RS. et al. Circulation: Heart Failure. 2015.