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Top Habits That Could "Stop Your Heart"

These five things are breaking your heart.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, but according to the World Health Organization, the vast majority of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable. "It's important for people to realize that more than 80% of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral arterial disease events are preventable, so early recognition of risk factors is important," says Dr. Roger Blumenthal, director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone center for prevention of cardiovascular disease and co-chair of the ACC/AHA Prevention Writing Committee. "We want people to realize that it's not rocket science on most of these things. It's good common sense. And for doctors, it's about motivating people when they come in for each and every visit — no matter what they come in to see us for." Here are five habits that are causing heart damage, 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.



Hand stubbed out cigarette in a transparent ashtray on wooden table

Smoking cigarettes is terrible for heart health, doctors say—according to the American Heart Association, as much as 30% of heart disease deaths are linked to smoking. "When most patients think of the dangers of smoking, they think about the lungs," says cardiovascular surgeon G. Michael Deeb, MD. "But cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the world, and smoking is accelerating the problem."


Never Getting Exercise

Woman sitting on bed looking at phone bored and in a bad mood

Regular exercise is key to supporting heart health. "The heart is a muscle that needs exercise. Getting the heart rate in an aerobic training zone maintains that heart-pumping, or systolic, function," says cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD. "But more importantly, regular physical activity can lead to lower blood pressure and weight stability. And once you have made aerobic physical activity a habit, start adding in some resistance training using light weights or bands. Even two to five times a week can help stave off heart disease."


Skipping Health Screenings

senior man consulting with doctor

It's vitally important to get regular screenings for heart health, especially to keep track of factors out of your control. "For example, if you adjust your lifestyle and get active and strict with what you eat, you can lower bad cholesterol by about 25% to 30%. But the rest is genetically driven," says Dr. Laffin. "And we can't reverse risk factors such as genetics, family history and aging. At a certain point, you may need to take medications to prevent heart disease."


Eating Too Much Junk Food

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

Junk food high in sugar and ultra processed carbohydrates are strongly linked to heart disease. "The consumption of ultra-processed foods makes up over half of the daily calories in the average American diet and are increasingly consumed worldwide. As poor diet is a major modifiable risk factor for heart disease, it represents a critical target in prevention efforts," says Filippa Juul, MS, PhD, a faculty fellow at the New York University School of Public Health. "Our findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting cardiovascular benefits of limiting ultra-processed foods."


You Have Too Much Belly Fat

Obese woman laying on sofa with smartphone eating chips

Excess belly fat is linked to heart disease, even for those with a healthy BMI. "Studies that have examined the relationship between abdominal fat and cardiovascular outcomes confirm that visceral fat is a clear health hazard," says Dr. Tiffany Powell-Wiley, chief of the Social Determinants of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Laboratory at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

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