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Proven Ways You're Ruining Your Heart Say Doctors

How not to break your own heart.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, according to the CDC. "If you don't know your risk for heart disease, you cannot take steps to prevent it," says Steven Nissen, MD, Chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. "Ignorance won't make the problem go away." Here are five proven ways you are undermining your heart health, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


High Cholesterol

man eating a burger

Are your cholesterol levels in the healthy range, or are you at risk of hyperlipidemia? "So if you have high cholesterol, some of us have genetically very high cholesterol, it can cause heart attack and stroke," says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. "And the way it does that is that it lays down in our blood vessels and you build up blockages. Now, people can also have vascular dementia. So having high cholesterol can also cause dementia… The bad cholesterol is called LDL, L for lousy. And LDL, the higher level it is, the worse off you are."


Belly Fat

belly fat, tape measure

Multiple studies show that too much belly fat increases the risk of heart disease, even for people who are otherwise in shape. "The reason abdominal obesity is very common in patients with a first heart attack is that it is closely linked with conditions that accelerate the clogging of arteries through atherosclerosis," says Dr. Hanieh Mohammadi of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. "These conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and insulin resistance (diabetes) as well as raised blood lipid levels."



no smoking sign

Smoking puts tremendous pressure on your heart, according to experts. "Smoking causes narrowing and stiffening of the blood vessels and changes in blood flow which force the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body—raising your blood pressure," says Stephen Sinatra, MD. "Plus, the rise in blood pressure causes further arterial damage and is a significant risk factor for multiple cardiovascular disorders."


High Blood Pressure

Woman have her blood pressure checked by female doctor.

High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. "The first time you may find out that you have high blood pressure is when you have a stroke or a heart attack," says Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. "High blood pressure can damage the walls of the arteries, causing coronary artery disease and stroke. It can also damage the heart muscle, leading to heart failure."


Terrible Diet

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

An unhealthy diet high in junk food and sugar can drastically raise your risk of heart disease, doctors warn. "A way of looking at it is thinking about food as medicine," says registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD. "The right food can really improve your health and decrease your risk of developing these chronic diseases." Want to learn more about a heart healthy diet? Here is what the American Heart Association recommends.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan