Illustration of the body's heart and kidneys

Achieving ideal heart health may also help prevent chronic kidney disease, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study was the first to show that for people who are generally healthy, a higher number of ideal Life’s Simple 7 health factors is associated with a reduced risk of new-onset kidney disease, said Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.

Life’s Simple 7 are healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, diet, body weight, enough physical activity and not smoking.

For the study, researchers categorized 14,832 people ages 45-64 in each of Life’s Simple 7 measures as poor, intermediate or ideal. Participants were followed for an average 22 years for the development of chronic kidney disease, a sometimes life-threatening condition in which the kidneys are damaged and can’t filter waste from the body.

Researchers found:

  • Participants with the most Simple 7 health factors had the lowest risk of developing chronic kidney disease.
  • About a third of study participants who had no ideal health factors at the study’s start developed chronic kidney disease during follow-up.
  • Only 6.5 percent of participants with six or seven ideal health factors developed chronic kidney disease.
  • Smoking, body mass index, physical activity, blood pressure and blood glucose were associated with chronic kidney disease risk, but diet and blood cholesterol were not.
  • The higher the number of ideal health factors, the lower the risk of chronic kidney disease.
  • There were 2,743 cases of chronic kidney disease during an average 22 years of follow-up.
  • The number of ideal Life’s Simple 7 health factors was significantly associated with chronic kidney disease even after accounting for age, sex, race, and a test to gauge kidney function called glomerular filtration rate.
  • The narrowing of arteries that underlies heart disease also damages the blood vessels in the kidneys. Damaged kidneys are less able to produce a hormone that regulates blood pressure.

Researchers defined ideal levels of Life’s Simple 7 as:

  • Being a non-smoker or quitting more than one year ago.
  • Having a healthy weight (body mass index less than 25).
  • Performing at least 150 minutes/week of physical activity.
  • Having a healthy diet score (high in fruits and vegetables, fish and fiber-rich whole grains; low in sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages).
  • Having a total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL; blood pressure of less than 120/80 mm Hg; and a fasting blood glucose of less than 100 mg/dL.