5 Everyday Habits That Might Lead to a Heart Attack, Say Doctors
Many factors can raise our risk for a heart attack, from family history to certain diseases. But the most significant are everyday behaviors that are directly within our control, says Elena Ghiaur, MD, a primary care physician with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. "The most important factors that impact us day-to-day are smoking, lack of exercise, the diet choices that we make, and obesity," she says. Unfortunately, like many physicians, Ghiaur has seen stress and isolation from the pandemic cause too many patients to become stuck in unhealthy patterns. To start lowering your heart attack risk today, these are the habits you'll want to avoid or reverse. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss this special report: I'm a Doctor and Warn You Never Take This Supplement.
"Smoking interacts at every single level in the process of a heart attack," says Ghiaur. "For that reason, we don't recommend any level of smoking." That includes vaping or e-cigarettes, about which too little is known to assess their risk. It's unlikely they can be considered safe for the heart. After all, "secondhand smoking has been proven to be damaging to our health, just as much as first-hand smoking," says Ghiaur.
Eating Processed Food
"Ultra-processed food seems to be a factor independent of obesity in terms of being a risk for heart attack," says Ghiaur. "Chips, cured meat, pre-packaged foods, soups, TV dinners—they all have a lot of salt, sugar, fat, and preservatives. We get more salt from these foods than from what's in the salt shaker we use when we cook." Sodium raises blood pressure and damages blood vessels, raising the risk of heart attack and stroke. "And then preservatives themselves supposedly cause more damage to our blood vessels, in addition to everything else that's in the food."
Her recommendations: To help make healthy choices and monitor your portion size, eat mindfully—sit at the kitchen table for mealtime instead of scarfing takeout in front of the TV or while scrolling through social media.
"Being overweight, even if you eat the right foods, increases the risk of heart attack," says Ghiaur. "Studies show there's a good relationship between weight, blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar level. Obesity increases the other risk factors. Plus, most of the time, obesity is also caused by the lack of physical exercise."
On that note: The pandemic has turned us into a society of couch potatoes, "and we have to figure out how to move," says Ghiaur. "We usually recommend getting at least half an hour of exercise, five days a week, so 150 minutes total. In reality, the more we exercise, the better."
You don't have to start training for a marathon tomorrow; you can take small steps to be more active. Ghiaur's recommendations: Try to intentionally "inconvenience yourself" by choosing to take the stairs, park further back in the parking lot and walk to your destination, take a stroll for lunch or spend a weekend outside.
"Although stress is such a difficult-to-define term, it does seem to play a role in our health altogether," says Ghiaur. "It pretty much worsens all our bad habits—we exercise less because of stress, we eat more bad food, we smoke more."
Her recommendations: "Slow down and still try to find joy in life. Mono-task—I see people trying to do so many things without actually getting quality in any single action that they take. Sit at the table and just eat, then go on a walk. Get down on the floor and play with the kids. Talk to your friends, visit your parents. All these things have been proven to be beneficial toward pretty much every aspect of our lives, but also heart health." And to protect your health, don't miss these Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.