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Ways You're Damaging Your Heart and Don't Even Know It

Experts reveal harmful habits damaging your heart. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Your heart works hard every minute of the day to keep you healthy, and not taking care of it can lead to major health issues. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 659,000 people in the United States die from heart disease each year—that's 1 in every 4 deaths." While we all know smoking and excess drinking can damage the heart, there's other unhealthy behaviors that are just as harmful that you might not even realize. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who reveal what habits to kick immediately to maintain a healthy heart.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Stress

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Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, MD, a board certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA says, "Too much emotional stress will ramp up the sympathetic nervous system chronically, which is the part of the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for an individual's "fight or flight" response. Humans evolved this response to escape dangerous situations. When under chronic stress, pathways involved in the sympathetic nervous system are activated constantly, leading to increased inflammation and the secretion of stress hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline). This leads to changes in physiology that contribute directly and indirectly to high blood pressure, electrical rhythm disturbances, high cholesterol, and obesity, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, exercising, or practicing a hobby can help improve the nervous system response, especially when performed consistently."

2

Dietary Habits

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Dr. Tadwalkar shares, "Poor diet is a major contributor towards heart disease. This includes fast foods, processed meats, red meat, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, and soda. Foods that are often not thought of as bad for the heart but actually are, especially when consumed in high quantities, include white bread, pizza, canned soup, energy bars, smoothies, sports drinks and ice cream. Unfortunately, foods that are bad for the heart are all around us and it takes some effort to eat heart healthy. Carving out a diet plan that is functional and easy to incorporate in one's day to day life is indeed challenging, but necessary to improve heart health. Fortunately, there are many licensed professionals who can assist with this."

3

Not Exercising

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video
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"Not getting up and moving is a major cause of cardiovascular disease," says Dr. Tadwalkar. "Being sedentary contributes greatly towards the process of atherosclerosis, which is the deposition of plaque within the inner lining of the arteries. The atherosclerotic process can contribute to the development of a heart attack. Replacing even 15 to 30 minutes of sedentary time with active time, for example, using a foot or exercise bike while watching television, or simply just standing instead of sitting, can have tremendous effects over time in preventing heart disease. Exercise will lower blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, weight and stress hormones, all of which protects the heart."

4

Supplements

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According to Dr. Tadwalkar, "We see too many individuals needlessly taking supplements, including vitamins and herbals, that they do not need. In some cases, these supplements can interact with prescribed medication, or other supplements to cause destructive effects on the heart. Even more frequently, individuals may feel that they are receiving some form of beneficial effect from a supplement, when in reality they are not. This can be harmful because one believes they are protecting their heart but in actuality are not achieving any meaningful improvement in their cardiovascular health. It is important for an individual to talk with their cardiologist or primary physician about any supplements being taken, so an assessment can be made as to whether it is needed or not."

5

Drinking Tap Water

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Water expert Riggs Eckelberry, reveals, "When it comes to heart health, what we consume can be a major factor in both preventing and causing disease. Normally, we think of high-sugar foods and saturated fats, but what's often overlooked is something very essential – the water you're consuming. And if you're consuming tap water, you may want to rethink that habit. According to a recent study by Columbia University, two-thirds of American drinking water has levels of detectable uranium! As noted in the article, studies indicate that exposure to elevated levels of uranium over a long period of time can damage your kidneys and heart, and "Even at low concentrations, uranium represents an important risk factor for the development of chronic diseases." 37,000 drinking water systems were evaluated to determine the amounts of uranium in our drinking water, with the highest concentrations of uranium often found in the Southwest and Central Midwest regions of the U.S. The highest concentrations were more likely to be near semi-urban and Hispanic communities. The reality is that while the government sets "statistically safe" standards for contaminants in our drinking water, that doesn't make it completely safe. In other words, while the water in the US may not immediately kill you, it can lead to long-term health conditions. As central water systems face underfunding and aging infrastructure, we as consumers must be aware of the quality of our water. The Environmental Working Group's Tap Water Database is one way to find the true quality of water in your area – and you probably won't like what you see. So, what can you do about it? In addition to kicking the tap water drinking habit and ensuring you consume high-quality, purified water whenever possible, we strongly encourage everyone to have an at-home filtration system."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more