50 Worst Habits for Your Heart
If your car stopped running, you'd get the engine checked. If your computer stopped working, you'd take it in for repair. So why don't we treat our hearts as well as our hard drives, or Toyotas?
Every day, we're doing things to tire out our ticker, and may not even know it. The stats prove it: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 610,000 people die from heart disease in the United States every year. This means that one in four deaths that occur annually is the result of heart disease or some type of cardiac event.
Fortunately, identifying your bad habits, and changing them easily and effectively, can lead to a happier and healthier life. Keep reading to find out how.
You Ignore These Physical Symptoms
You know your body well, so you can usually gauge when something is off. So don't brush off the symptoms of your heart asking for help. Time is crucial when attempting to minimize the damage from heart disease or other cardiovascular events.
The quicker you seek treatment, the less likely you'll suffer from permanent damage that can't be reversed. "It's better for it to be much ado about nothing than sitting on a heart attack for six hours," says Dr. Robert J. Ostfeld, MD, MS from the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore.
The Rx: Depending on the type of cardiovascular event or condition you're experiencing, you could feel a wide range of physical symptoms, including:
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Pain, numbness, weakness, or coldness in your legs or arms.
- Pain in your jaw, throat, back, or upper abdomen.
- Fluttering in your chest.
- Swelling in your legs, hands, ankles, or feet.
- Skin rashes or skin spots.
- A dry cough that won't go away.
If you're experiencing sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting, visit your local emergency room as soon as possible. If you're experiencing any of the other heart disease symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out.
You Have Troubled Sleep
Sleep isn't just important for your energy, focus, mental health, healthy weight and good looks— it also contributes directly to your heart health. If you have an erratic sleep schedule, you could be causing your body undue stress, which can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, an erratic sleep schedule and lack of solid sleep each night "causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation." And we already know how high blood pressure and inflammation make your heart work harder, ultimately increasing your chances for a cardiac event.
The Rx: The National Sleep Foundation claims, "Without long, deep periods of rest, certain chemicals are activated that keep the body from achieving extended periods in which heart rate and blood pressure are lowered. Over time, this can lead to higher blood pressure during the day and a greater chance of cardiovascular problems." To keep your heart happy, it's important to regularly get the recommended number of hours of sleep each night. For adults, that's a solid seven to nine hours.
You Have the Worst Commute
Yes, a stressful commute can kill you. Even if your trip is only a few minutes a day, if it's making you have physical adverse reactions, such as an increased heart rate, it's not doing anything good for your heart.
A long commute requires a lot of sitting, which is also bad for your cardiovascular health. According to a study published in BMJ Journal, "Prospective observational studies have shown associations between walking or cycling to work and health, principally through a reduced risk of cardiometabolic disease." Long and stressful commutes that require long periods of sedentary sitting, on the other hand, can increase risks for heart disease and overall poor cardiovascular health.
The Rx: If possible, try to bike or walk to work and skip the stressful commute altogether. If you have to drive, relieve the stress of traffic by listening to a meditation podcast or soothing music.
You Worry About Money
Your money troubles could have a direct effect on your heart health. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examined 2,256 African-American men and women who had no prior cardiovascular conditions. About 4% of the participants had a heart attack or other cardiac event within the follow-up period of 9.6 years. According to Dr. Cheryl Clark of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the senior study author, "We found that psychological feelings of stress due to finances were related to the onset of heart disease, such as heart attacks and procedures used to treat heart attacks – even when other issues like access to care, or difficulty affording medications were considered."
The Rx: Constant life stresses aren't good for your ticker, so it's important to address these stressors and try to eliminate them. If finances are the culprit for much of your stress, create a budget you can stick to that makes you feel more in control. Consider meeting with a financial advisor who can help you learn how to live within your means or address your debt concerns.
You Live With Daily Stress in General
Trying to get the kids to the school bus on time, meeting deadlines at work, or paying an unexpected home improvement bill can all be culprits for stress. And if you're constantly feeling the side effects of stress, your body can feel the consequences. It can cause your heart rate to become erratic and is also known to cause inflammation in the body. If you're in a constant state of stress, your body is in this unhealthy state all the time.
This stress can also cause you to adapt unhealthy habits to cope. According to Dr. Deepak Bhatt from Brigham and Women's Hospital, "Stress does cause some people to act in ways that increase their risk for heart disease." It can push people to turn to coping mechanisms, such as excessive alcohol intake or smoking. If you're like most people, you crave comfort foods during stressful periods. These unhealthy foods can cause weight gain and high cholesterol levels, which can also be factors for an increased risk of heart disease.
The Rx: If your life feels stressful on a daily basis, it's time to take some things off your plate to get heart-healthy. Say "no" to some of your obligations, if possible, so you can free up time and focus on the important things. Try a daily meditation session and don't skimp on exercise. Everyone has a different technique for dealing with stress, so you may want to try listening to soft music, taking a bubble bath, or watching a funny TV show to wind down.
You're Too Caffeinated
Even if you don't have high blood pressure, the consumption of caffeine can result in a dramatic spike in your blood pressure for a short period of time. According to the Mayo Clinic, some researchers believe this spike occurs because caffeine blocks a hormone that keeps your arteries widened. Other researchers believe the blood pressure spike happens because caffeine signals your adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline.
In some cases, consumption of caffeine can cause you to have permanently high blood pressure. If you feel this spike in blood pressure or you get heart palpitations after consuming caffeine, your heart might be working too hard, which can lead to negative effects, including cardiovascular disease.
The Rx: If you've already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, consult your doctor before you consume caffeine. If you don't suffer from high blood pressure but feel you're having adverse effects to caffeine, it's time to cut back. The Mayo Clinic recommends "limiting the amount of caffeine you drink to 200 milligrams a day—about the same amount as is generally in two 8-ounce (237-milliliter) cups of brewed coffee."
You Get Really Pissed Off—a Lot
When you get angry, your body releases stress hormones, which cause your blood pressure to rise and your heart rate to increase. According to Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, from Harvard Medical School, "It also makes your blood more likely to clot, which is especially dangerous if your arteries are narrowed by cholesterol-laden plaque." After you experience an angry outburst, your chances of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or chest pain slightly increase for the next two hours.
The Rx: Keep your anger in check and don't react in the moment. Communicate calmly instead of expressing your anger loudly or violently. Dr. Michael C. Miller from Harvard Medical School says, "That can lead to more anger. So step back from it, and don't take immediate action unless you have to. By keeping your head cool, you may get more satisfaction—and perhaps avoid a serious heart-related problem." In some cases, you may need to walk away and have a moment to yourself before attempting to resolve the conflict.
You're Not Eating Enough of This Secret Ingredient
Sorry, it's not gummy worms. No, the USDA recommends that female adults up to age 50 consume 25 grams of fiber per day and adult males up to age 50 consume 38 grams of fiber daily. Female adults older than 50 years of age should consume 21 grams of fiber each day while males should consume 30 daily grams of fiber daily. It's also recommended to get most of this fiber from real foods and not supplements.
Not only does fiber help to keep you regular, it's also crucial for heart health. A study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing concluded that "An increasing number of observational findings have reported a lower incidence of coronary heart disease in subjects who report consuming diets high in fiber. Dietary fiber is thought to affect several cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors."
The Rx: Eat a healthy diet that incorporates foods that are high in fiber, such as:
Focus on eating these foods as raw and natural as possible, and try to eliminate processed foods from your diet as much as possible.
You're Skipping This Important Meal
Bing bing bing: It's breakfast. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology researched the link between skipping breakfast and cardiovascular disease, along with other factors for mortality. The study concluded that, "Skipping breakfast was associated with a significantly increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease." Not only does breakfast decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, a healthy first meal of the day can also keep you satiated, which helps to curb overeating.
The Rx: Your daily breakfast should include healthy foods that will provide you with energy and nutrients. Some of the best breakfast options may include whole-grain cereals or oatmeals, protein sources, such as peanut butter or low-fat turkey, or fruits and vegetables.
You Sit a Lot at Work
More than half of the average person's waking hours are spent sitting, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. If you have a desk job or a sedentary lifestyle, the number of hours you sit can be even higher. The study also found that you burn 30% more calories when you're standing as opposed to sitting. But this isn't all about calories. Even if you work out for an hour each day but sit for the rest of your day, you can still increase your risk for heart disease or a cardiovascular event.
The same study concluded that sitting for extended periods of time raised the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14% and increased the chance for an early death by 40%. According to Dr. I-Min Lee from Harvard Medical School, sitting "has harmful effects on sugar and fat metabolism, both of which affect a person's risk of diabetes and heart disease."
The Rx: If you're stuck at a desk job, consider installing a standing desk. If this isn't an option, set an alarm every one to two hours during your sitting hours. When the alarm goes off, take a three to five minute walk around the building before getting back to your chair. (Or, drink an eight ounce glass of water every hour. That way, you'll be well-hydrated—and also forced to stand up to use the loo.)
You Don't Get Blood Work Annually
An annual physical exam is an important part of staying healthy. In addition, you should also get bloodwork done each year. That allows your doctor to better understand your numbers when you're well.
With a baseline, your doctor can identify red flags that your body isn't feeling its best. According to Dr. Michael Fedewa, Jr., DO, a physician at Duke Primary Care Holly Springs Family Medicine, "If we know you when you're well, we're going to be ready to provide the best care when you're sick, and we may be able to prevent some illness altogether."
There are many ways your blood work can warn your doctor that something's going wrong with your ticker. According to the Mayo Clinic, a thorough panel of blood work can measure your:
- Cholesterol. This includes your triglycerides, HDL, and LDL levels.
- High-sensitivity C-reactive protein. This is a protein your liver produces in reaction to excessive inflammation.
- Plasma ceramides. Your levels of ceramides can alert your doctor to a potential buildup of plaque in your arteries.
- Natriuretic peptides. This is a protein produced by your heart and blood vessels and a high level can indicate an issue.
The Rx: No matter your age, it's important to get a thorough blood work panel completed each year. If your doctor orders you to get specific blood tests, don't delay. Having your blood work on file can help your doctor to quickly and accurately identify a problem with your heart.
You Carry a Spare Tire
If you carry excessive weight around your midsection, it can increase your risk for heart disease and other heart-related events. According to Dr. Barbara Kahn from Medicine at Harvard Medical School, "There are many studies showing that an unfavorable waist-to-hip ratio is highly associated with diabetes and cardiovascular risk."
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that women who carried more weight around their midsections were 10 to 20% more likely to suffer heart attacks than women who were generally overweight. Men with beer bellies had a 6% increased risk of suffering from a heart attack than average or generally overweight men.
The Rx: Keep weight gain in check, especially if you notice a growing waistline. Follow a healthy diet and exercise daily. Instead of crash dieting to lose the pounds, Dr. Kahn says, "I don't talk with patients as much about going on a diet as I do about creating a long-term lifestyle program that includes physical activity and sustainable dietary changes."
You Don't Go to the Doctor Annually
According to Dr. Troy Madsen, MD, from the University of Utah, "Chest pains are one of the most common problems seen in the ER." If you want to avoid an unnerving visit to him at 3 a.m., it's important to visit your doctor annually. Even if you don't feel symptoms of heart disease and feel you're doing everything to stay healthy, an annual check-up is still important.
The Rx: Not only is it crucial to keep your annual health check-up appointments, you should also follow the doctor's orders. If your doctor asks you to have bloodwork tested or complete an additional test because he or she found something concerning, don't blow it off.
You Smoke Cigarettes
According to the CDC, smoking is a major cause for cardiovascular disease and one out of three deaths from heart disease may be directly related to tobacco. If you're an avid cigarette smoker, be aware that this nasty habit causes:
- Triglyceride levels to raise, which are a type of fat in your blood.
- HDL cholesterol levels to decrease, which is the "good" kind of cholesterol.
- Blood to become stickier, making it more likely to clot and lead to a stroke.
- Damage to the cells that line your blood vessels.
- An increase in plaque buildup in your blood vessels.
- Thickening and narrowing of your blood vessels.
The Rx: The only way to prevent smoking from increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease is to quit completely. Quitting smoking isn't easy, so you may need to ask for professional help. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, "Quitting smoking reduces the risk of repeat heart attacks and death from heart disease by 50% or more."
You Breathe Secondhand Smoke
Don't hang outside the building with the smokers—secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals. Even if you're not the one puffing on the cigarette, according to the CDC, you're at risk for exposure to hundreds of toxins if you're frequently hanging around with someone who smokes. The Surgeon General warns, "Exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and can cause coronary heart disease and stroke." Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke regularly increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30%.
The Rx: You'll have to set some ground rules to eliminate your exposure to secondhand smoke. Don't allow smoking in your home and try to avoid it at work. Ask friends and family members not to smoke around you and avoid public places where smoking is permitted.
You Eat a Lot of Red and Processed Meat
We already know that red and processed meat contains cholesterol and saturated fat, which are bad for our bodies. Processed meat is meat that contains nitrates, salts, or other preservatives, such as:
- Hot dogs.
- Deli meats.
If you're eating red or processed meat, you're also increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. A study published in Nutrients confirms this increased risk. The study followed 96,000 Seventh-day Adventist participants, tracking their meat consumption and mortality rates.
Participants with higher red or processed meat consumption also had higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The study concluded this may be attributed to the inflammation your body experiences when these meats are consumed, as well as their high sodium levels.
The Rx: Try to replace your meat-heavy meals with healthier foods, like fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Stay away from processed meat and opt for all-natural meats that don't contain nitrates or other preservatives. If you just can't stay away from processed meat, Harvard Health Publishing recommends eating a maximum of two servings per week. One serving should only be about two to three ounces of meat.
You Ignore Feelings of Depression
Your mood has a startling effect on your health and wellbeing. There's actually a direct link between depression and your risk of heart disease. According to Dr. Leopoldo Pozuelo, MD, from the Cleveland Clinic, "Patients with depression have been shown to have increased platelet reactivity, decreased heart variability and increased proinflammatory markers (such as C-reactive protein or CRP), which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease."
The Rx: Feeling a little melancholy once in a while is normal, but if you're living with a severely depressed mood that lasts every day for over two weeks, it's time to seek treatment. Reach out to a licensed therapist to help get you through your depression. The sooner you seek help, the less likely that you'll increase your risk for heart disease.
You Don't Work Out
Exercising daily is another important factor that contributes to heart health. There's a popular saying, "If you don't use it, you lose it." If you don't get your heart pumping with exercise everyday, it won't stay healthy or grow stronger, just like any other muscle in your body.
Blowing off your workout won't just make you feel lazy or guilty. Dr. Meagan Wasfy, MD from Massachusetts General Hospital says you should, "think of exercise as an insurance policy that may offer both short- and long-term protection for your heart. In essence, you're training your heart to be more resilient."
The Rx: Harvard Health Publishing recommends engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise for 30 minutes each day. It can be hard to start an exercise routine, but it's important for your heart health. Enlist the help of a friend or family member to hold you accountable or consider joining a gym and going to group exercise classes to stay motivated.
You Give In to Your Sweet Tooth
Sugar is a tough habit to break, but if you want a healthy heart, it's time to leave the sweet stuff behind. While natural sugar can be found in fruits and vegetables, it's the added sugar in cookies, cakes, granola bars, and other processed foods that's dangerous to your heart. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found a direct link between sugar consumption and a greater risk for heart disease.
The 15-year study found that participants who got 17 to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who only got 8% of their calories from added sugar. Dr. Frank Hu from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the researchers on the study says, "The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke."
The Rx: Added sugar is not a required nutrient in your diet, so try to avoid it at all costs. However, if you're going to indulge, keep in mind that the American Heart Association suggests that men consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day and women no more than 25 grams. This includes sugar from both beverages and foods.
You Ignore Your Family's Health History
If heart disease, stroke, or other heart-related conditions run in your family, it's possible that your risk for these conditions may be higher. It's important to learn your immediate relatives' health history and share this history with your doctor. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Promotion, your risk for heart disease is higher if your father or brother had heart disease before age 55 or your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65.
The Rx: Ask your relatives questions about their health history, especially about any heart-related conditions or illnesses they've experienced. If you know your risk for heart disease is higher, you can take the necessary steps to ensure you're living your healthiest life.
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You Don't Know Your Cholesterol Numbers
According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, "High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease." If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries. This makes it harder for blood to flow to your heart, which can ultimately cut off the blood supply to the heart. If this occurs, you'll experience a heart attack.
There are no symptoms for high cholesterol and most people don't even know they have it. Your diet, weight, physical activity level, and family history can affect your cholesterol level. Even if you're eating healthy and exercising, it's still important to know your numbers. If you have high cholesterol, addressing it with diet and lifestyle changes or medication can decrease your risk for a cardiac event.
The Rx: Do you know your numbers? If you're not sure if you have high cholesterol, visit your doctor and ask for a blood work panel. Get your bloodwork done annually or as often as your doctor suggests. If your cholesterol is slightly raised, you can make lifestyle changes that may improve your numbers without taking medication.
You Don't Know Your Blood Sugar Levels
One of the best ways you can treat your heart right is to keep your blood sugar levels in check. If you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, knowing your blood sugar levels is not only important for managing your disease, but also for keeping your heart happy. According to Dr. Bill McEvoy, M.B., B.Ch., from John Hopkins University, "A large proportion of diabetes patients have no symptoms, but diabetes, particularly when poorly controlled, is already harming their blood vessels and leading to hardening of the arteries, which is what leads to heart disease."
The Rx: Your fasting blood sugar level should be below 100 to stay within the healthy range. If you have diabetes, talk with your doctor about how you can continually keep an eye on your blood sugar levels. Be aware of what to do when these levels are out of whack and have a blood sugar management plan in place.
You Don't Control Your Weight
Being overweight or obese causes health problems that can contribute to a higher risk of heart disease. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, people who are overweight generally have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. These health problems make your heart work harder to pump blood, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, or heart attack.
The Rx: If you're overweight, even just losing 5 to 10% of your body weight can lower your chances of developing heart disease because it improves your blood flow. Eat a healthy diet heavy in fruits and vegetables and exercise daily. Start a diet and exercise regimen that you know you can stick with for your long-term health.
You're Not Monitoring your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is also referred to as hypertension and it can be a big strain on your heart. It can be caused by too much stress, an unhealthy diet, or inactivity. It takes a while to develop high blood pressure, so monitoring your own blood pressure periodically is important. If you live with high blood pressure and don't make changes, the AHA warns it can eventually cause a stroke, angina, heart failure, or a heart attack.
The Rx: Your doctor should check your blood pressure annually at every exam. If it's high, he or she may suggest a healthier lifestyle or medication. You can also check your blood pressure at home periodically to ensure the changes you're making are effective. If you check your blood pressure and it's extremely high, visit your doctor immediately. It could be a sign you're experiencing a hypertension crisis or other cardiac event.
You're Eating Trans Fats
Trans fats aren't healthy because they raise your LDL, which is the bad cholesterol that builds up in your blood. Trans fats are also notorious for lowering HDL, which is the good cholesterol your body needs. Most doctors label these fats as the worst type you can eat and they're commonly found in:
- Baked goods.
- Fried foods.
- Processed dough.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "Doctors worry about trans fat because it increases the risk for heart attacks, stroke, and type 2 diabetes."
The Rx: Since trans fats have no nutritional value, diet experts suggest knocking them out of your diet completely. But even foods labeled as "Zero Trans Fats" may still contain this dangerous substance. According to Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D., from Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, "The government allows manufacturers to put on the label 'has zero trans fats' if it contains less than 0.5 grams per serving." So keep in mind, there may still be some trans fats in these foods. In addition to only looking for foods with no trans fats, you should also avoid those that list any type of "partially hydrogenated oil" in the ingredients list.
You're Not Treating Your Teeth Right
Flossing prevents gum disease, which is important for your oral health. But did you know gum disease can also increase your risk for developing heart disease? According to Dr. Evelina Grayver, from Northwell Health's North Shore University Hospital, "Gum disease leads to an inflammatory state in the entire body, thus increasing your chance of heart disease exponentially."
The AHA confirms the link between oral health and heart health. It found that those who didn't follow strict brushing and flossing habits increased their risk for developing heart disease.
The Rx: The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once daily. Visit your dentist twice each year to keep an eye on your gums and to ensure your oral health routine is keeping your mouth clean and your heart disease risk low.
You Don't Have Any Hobbies
When you pass the time doing something you love, such as hiking, knitting, or putting together a puzzle, you're lowering your stress. We already know that stress is a contributing factor to heart disease, so this can help lower your risk of an unhappy heart.
In a study published by Heart and Vessel, a group of participants with normal coronary function were studied. Half the group engaged in hobbies they enjoyed while the other half didn't participate in these pastimes at all. It was found that coronary blood flow and coronary artery diameter were increased in the group engaging in hobbies. Basically, the heart was functioning better in those participants who took time to do the activities they enjoyed. The study concluded that "enjoying hobbies may improve cardiovascular outcomes via its favorable effects on coronary endothelial function."
The Rx: Do what you love! It's important to enjoy your free time and engage in hobbies that you enjoy. Do you like to fish? Play poker? Join a local group that meets regularly so you can be held accountable to spend some time enjoying your hobbies. Not only will it make you happy, it'll also make your heart happy.
You Aren't Intimate Often Enough
Believe it or not, intercourse may actually lower your risk for a cardiac event and heart disease.
Not only can it relieve stress, it can also raise your heart rate and mimic a short bout of exercise, which is helpful for keeping your heart strong. Dr. Joseph J. Pinzone, MD, from AMAI Wellness, concluded, "Sexual intercourse specifically lowered systolic blood pressure." That's the second number in your blood pressure reading. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology also found that men who had intercourse at least twice a week were less likely to develop heart disease when compared to men who did it once a month.
The Rx: Engage in safe activity at least twice a week to reap the full benefits.
Your Diet Doesn't Have Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Studies published in the AHA Journal conclude that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids can decrease risk for cardiovascular disease. Research shows that eating foods with this nutrient, such as sardines, herring, tuna, and salmon, can:
- Decrease risk for arrhythmias.
- Improve endothelial function.
- Slightly lower blood pressure.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Decrease risk for thrombosis.
- Lower triglyceride levels.
Omega-3 supplements are also effective at providing the body with the same benefits and decreasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.
The Rx: The AHA recommends that adults eat fatty fish twice per week. Plant-derived omega-3's can be obtained through tofu or other soybean-based plants, as well as walnuts, flaxseeds, and oils derived from these plants.
You're Not Spending Enough Time with Your Friends and Family
Feeling supported makes you happy and confident, which can lead to less stress and less likelihood that you'll suffer from depression. A sunny outlook on life and time with friends and family members who encourage you to stay in a good mood can also be good for your heart.
A study conducted by Laura Kubzansky, Ph.D., from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, followed over 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years. The "emotional vitality" of these participants was studied, which included:
- Engagement in life.
- Feelings of hopefulness.
- Facing stresses with emotional balance.
The study concluded that participants with better emotional vitality had lower risks for developing coronary disease.
The Rx: Spend time with people who make you feel good. Observe your mood when hanging out with your friends and family and increase the amount of time you spend with them if they boost your zest for life. Spending adequate time with your support system can ensure you handle everyday stresses better, without these stressful situations affecting your ticker.
You're Not Meal Planning
Even if you have every intention of eating a heart-healthy diet, life can get in the way. Sometimes a vending machine snack that's high in trans fats or a fast food burger that has too much sodium are easier to grab than fruits and vegetables. But planning out your meals and even preparing them in advance for a busy day can ensure you stay on track.
The Mayo Clinic suggests you plan meals that include tons of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The meals you prepare shouldn't include foods with lots of fat or sodium, such as red meat, processed foods, cheese, or baked goods.
The Rx: If you're attempting to change your diet and make healthier choices, make it easier on yourself by planning out your meals for the day. A busy day can spell disaster for a healthy diet, so packing to-go snacks, such as carrot sticks and hummus or nuts, can ensure you stay on track.
You're Not Practicing Yoga
When you think of exercising, you probably think of a heart-pumping, sweaty cardio class. But not all heart-healthy exercise is created equally. A relaxing yet challenging yoga practice may also provide your heart with the same benefits that other types of exercise can. According to Dr. Hugh Calkins, M.D., from Johns Hopkins, "A large number of studies show that yoga benefits many aspects of cardiovascular health."
Yoga is proven to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as blood glucose levels and heart rate. In many cases, a yoga practice can also lower stress and decrease the risk for depression.
The Rx: Take a stab at this beneficial heart-healthy form of exercise and if you like it, try to incorporate it into your weekly routine. John Hopkins Medicine claims that those who practice yoga at least twice per week were found to have lower blood markers for inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease.
You're Eating Too Much of This Ingredient
The American diet is high in sodium, mostly due to processed foods, which isn't just bad for water retention, but also your heart. If we can reduce this salt intake, we may be able to make things easier on our ticker. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, "Reducing dietary salt by 3 grams per day is projected to reduce the annual number of new cases of Coronary Heart Disease by 60,000 and stroke by 32,000."
The Rx: The CDC dietary guidelines conclude that Americans should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Pay attention to your salt intake and try to limit foods high in sodium, such as canned soups, chips, and other processed foods.
Your Exercise Routine Doesn't Include High Intensity Interval Cardio
High Intensity Interval Cardio, also commonly referred to as HIIT, is a form of exercise that asks your body to perform bursts of intense, physical activity followed by periods of light activity. For example, you'd perform high knees quickly for 45 seconds, then lightly jog in place for 20 seconds, then repeat. When you add HIIT training to your exercise routine, you increase your cardiovascular fitness, which improves the functionality and strength of your heart.
The Rx: Want to make your heart stronger by adding HIIT training to your exercise routine? It's important to start slow. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that HIIT training can be beneficial for those with heart disease, but "if you have a chronic health condition or haven't been exercising regularly, consult your doctor before trying any type of interval training."
You Overdo It On Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has recently exploded as a health and superfood. While it has its benefits, it's important to stay cautious when it comes to heart health. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat and only one tablespoon of the stuff contains 13 grams, which just so happens to be your recommended daily limit, according to the AHA. Kimberly Gomer MS, RD, LDN, from Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa says, "The oils that people should not use are any of the unhealthy fats–including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil–all of which have potential to be atherogenic."
The Rx: If you're trying to maintain a healthy diet that's good for your heart, the amount of saturated fat you're consuming should be one of the first regulations you examine. While coconut oil may have other health benefits, don't overdo it so you can stay under the recommended allowance of daily saturated fat.
You Sweat the Small Stuff
If you stress about life's everyday details, this stress can seep into other facets of your daily schedule. Your sleep may suffer and your diet may not be as healthy as it should as you attempt to cope with your nervous energy. According to the AHA, "When stress is constant, your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time."
This can lead to high blood pressure and an increased heart rate, which can also increase your risk for cardiovascular disease or a cardiac event. Consistent daily stressors put your body in this constant state of stress, making the negative effects even more dramatic.
The Rx: The AHA warns, "Some people take tranquilizers to calm them down immediately, but it's far better in the long term to learn to manage your stress through relaxation or stress management techniques." Identify the cause of your daily stress and attempt to eliminate it from your life. If you can't, learn about coping strategies, including breathing techniques or meditation, so you can relax your body while confronting these stresses.
You're Not Drinking Tea Everyday
Black and green tea contain flavonoids, which are plant chemicals known to provide many health benefits, including reversing inflammation and artery plaque buildup. According to Harvard Health Publishing, studies have shown that drinking green and black tea regularly can reduce your likelihood of a stroke or heart attack. Dr. Howard Sesso from Brigham and Women's Hospital, says, "Tea is a good source of compounds known as catechins and epicatechins, which are thought to be responsible for tea's beneficial health effects."
The Rx: Consider adding one to three cups of black or green tea to your daily routine. However, don't go overboard by implementing a daily regimen of green tea extract pills or an excessive amount of tea. The correlations between tea and heart health are loose, so you shouldn't bank on it as a magical drink that guarantees to keep heart disease at bay
You're Not Eating the Rainbow
Greens, oranges, reds, pinks. Your diet should be full of beautiful colors to ensure it's healthy for your heart. Focusing on eating fruits and vegetables is important for a healthy diet, but it's also the variety of the healthy foods you eat that can allow you to experience the best health benefits. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, "A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check."
The Rx: In your pursuit of a healthy diet, try new fruits and vegetables and start adding them into your meals. Some of the most heart-healthy fruits and vegetables include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and chard, pears, and apples. Skip the potatoes and add more colorful vegetables to your meal, such as peppers and green beans.
You're Binge-Watching TV
Occasionally indulging in a few episodes of your favorite TV show is just fine and shouldn't have any adverse effects on your health. However, if you sit for hours and finish an entire season of your favorite sitcom, you may be putting your heart health at risk. Binge watching is a common trend that's gaining popularity as a pastime for many people. According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 80% of participants between 18 to 25 years old considered themselves binge-watchers.
But staying sedentary for hours on end is detrimental to your heart health and can contribute to high cholesterol and blood pressure. Staring at the screen for too long can also wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. These factors can easily increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
The Rx: Take a break! If you're into a show and have the time to binge watch an entire season, take frequent active breaks. Stretch your legs, change positions, or get up and walk around for a few minutes between episodes. Don't make it a habit to binge watch every night and save your binging session for a special occasion.
You Snore Every Night
Snoring is not only an annoyance for your partner, but it can also be a sign of something more serious. Snoring and sleep apnea are closely related. Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing starts and stops while your body is sleeping.
According to Dr. Grayver, "Sleep apnea can potentially be a sign of undetected hypertension or can be one of the first signs of increasing obesity, which has a significant correlation with coronary artery disease. Sleep apnea actually multiplies your cardiovascular risk several fold."
The Rx: If you wake up still feeling tired or your partner complains about your snoring, it's time to see a doctor. You'll need to get to the root of the problem so you can better understand what's causing this condition. Your doctor can ensure there aren't deeper issues and can help you to stop snoring or experiencing sleep apnea, usually with the assistance of a CPAP machine. More restful nights of sleep will decrease your risk for heart disease and can make you healthier and happier overall.
You're Eating Empty Calories
Your food choices have a direct relation to your risk of developing heart disease or experiencing a cardiovascular event. If you eat foods that are nutritious and provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs, you'll reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, eating foods with empty calories can increase your risk and are bad for your health.
Empty calorie foods are those that are high in sugar, fat, and oil. These foods have tons of calories, but these aren't calories your body can use. These empty calories don't contain a lot of nutrients, so they are simply stored as fat, which can cause weight gain. According to Andy Yurechko from the Augusta University Digestive Health Center, "Empty calorie foods (usually) do not contain fiber, thus you can expect a higher rise in blood sugar levels."
The Rx: "Empty calorie" foods like pizza, ice cream, cakes, cookies, soda, fast food, donuts, and other processed and packaged foods should be occasional treats. These foods shouldn't be eaten daily since they don't provide your body with nutrients. If you do indulge in one of these treats, be sure you still eat the fruits and vegetables your body needs to stay healthy.
You Stopped Taking Your Meds
If your doctor ordered you to take blood pressure medications or other pills that will help keep your cardiovascular system working properly, don't stop taking them without discussing it with a professional first. You may be feeling great and assume your blood pressure or cholesterol issues are far behind you. But if you stop taking the meds that are helping you, you can end up right back where you started…or worse.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, "Some people need several different medicines to strengthen their heart, lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, or stabilize heart rhythms. These medicines can be life giving—and powerful. Even a small drop in your blood pressure reading can cut your risk of having a heart attack."
The Rx: Don't stop taking prescribed medications without first speaking with your doctor. Millions of people take some form of medication for heart health, which can be life-saving. If you don't like the side effects of a specific medication, your doctor may be able to prescribe a different type of pill that your body reacts to better.
You're Eating Huge Meals
When it comes to a heart-healthy diet, portion control is also an important factor. If you're eating too many calories in one sitting, you could be increasing your risk for heart disease and sabotaging your efforts to eat healthy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it's important to pay attention to portion size when you eat so you can ensure you're not overdoing it with your daily calorie intake. If you consistently eat large portions with every meal, you're more likely to gain weight. And carrying extra weight can increase your risk for heart disease or a cardiovascular event.
The Rx: Start your meals by eating the foods you know are more nutritious, such as fruits and vegetables. Then, when you move on to the not-so-healthy foods on your plate, you won't be as hungry and you'll be less likely to over-indulge.
The Mayo Clinic confirms, "This strategy can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline. You should also pay attention to serving sizes when you create a meal. Judging serving size is a learned skill. You may need to use measuring cups and spoons or a scale until you're comfortable with your judgment."
You're Skipping Playtime
You can kill two birds with one stone if you incorporate playtime into your daily routine. Not only will you get in some exercise, which is great for your heart health, you'll also relieve stress and have fun, which can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease. You can take a walk with your family, join an intramural kickball league, or go mall-walking with your co-workers on your lunch break. Daily playtime can also combat a sedentary lifestyle that includes too many hours of sitting, which we already know is bad for your heart.
The Rx: According to Susan Moores, RD, MS, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, "Folks should get their heart rate up so they're somewhat breathless, but can still carry on a conversation." Pencil in 30 minutes a day of an enjoyable and fun activity in addition to your regular exercise regimen. This playtime will increase your energy, allow you to engage in an activity you like, and may even allow you to form new friendships or build stronger relationships with family and friends.
You're Eating Too Much Canned Food
Soups and canned vegetables can make for quick, low-cost meals and they may even provide you with some important nutrients. However, it's important to remember that canned foods usually come with high sodium content, which isn't heart-healthy. Also, many canned foods, including soups, come in cans that are lined with bisphenol A (BPA). This synthetic chemical can cause disruptions in your metabolic processes when ingested. These metabolic disruptions can lead to obesity or cardiovascular diseases. According to Dr. Robert Sargis MD, Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago, about 95% of Americans have traces of BPA in their urine because they eat foods in cans or plastics that contain this chemical.
The Rx: It's best to choose fresh foods and items that come in as little packaging as possible. Don't drink beverages from plastic containers, if possible. If you choose cans and other packaging that claim to be "BPA free," keep in mind, it doesn't always mean these are healthier choices. Dr. Sargis warns, "What was substituted for bisphenol A? There's just another chemical that's put in its place and we may have less understanding of what that substitute is."
You're Being Too Hard on Yourself
If you want to be your own heart health champion, you may be tempted to make tons of drastic changes to your lifestyle as soon as possible. But drastic changes to your diet and daily physical activity can make you burn out fast. If you implement strict dieting tactics that you know aren't realistic or sustainable, you may crash hard and become even more unhealthy than you were to begin with.
Starting an exercise routine that's too tough can lead to extremely sore muscles, injuries, and a lack of motivation to do any physical activity at all. Dr. Judith S. Hochman, MD, from the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU's Langone Medical Center, says, "I see so many people in their 40s and 50s dive into exercising with good intentions, hurt themselves, and then stop exercising all together."
The Rx: According to the AHA, if you want to start eating a healthy diet, keep it simple by beginning to eliminate non-nutritious foods and incorporating more nutrient-dense foods into your diet. This should include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. If exercise just isn't fitting into your schedule, try tricking yourself into getting moving by parking far away from your destination or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Eventually, make the time for exercise and work harder to weed out unhealthy foods from your diet.
You're Not Drinking Enough Water
Water is essential for all bodily functions, but it also plays an important role in your heart health. If you stay hydrated, your heart's job of pumping blood through the blood vessels and into your muscles is much easier.
Your heart pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood a day, so the least you can do is give it the water it needs to efficiently do its job. According to Dr. John Batson, MD, from Lowcountry Spine & Sport in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, "If you're well hydrated, your heart doesn't have to work as hard."
The Rx: To make it easy on your heart, it's important to stay hydrated during your normal daily activities, and even more so when you're performing physical activities or you're in a hot environment. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, men should drink about 15.5 cups of water per day and women should drink about 11.5 cups.
Thirst is a sign you're already dehydrated, so drink water before you even feel thirsty. Keep in mind, when you're spending time outside or doing something physical, you may need to bump up the number of sips you take.
You Try Out Crazy Diet Fads
Yo-yo dieting or jumping on the latest diet fad is not only frustrating, it can also lead you to experience extreme weight fluctuations. If you adapt a diet that isn't sustainable for the long-term, you're more likely to fall off the healthy eating wagon and into the deep end of junk food and overindulgence. This makes it more likely that you'll not only gain back any weight that you lost but also put on extra weight. And research shows that getting into a vicious cycle of gaining and losing weight can be hard on your heart.
A study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found that "Repeatedly losing and regaining weight, known as weight cycling or yo-yo dieting, may increase the risk of death from heart disease among postmenopausal women who were of normal weight at the start of the study."
The Rx: Avoid these extreme weight swings by implementing a healthy diet you know you can stick with. Don't jump on diet fads that are too extreme, restrictive, or that emphasize one type of food or nutrient more than the others. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating foods that are good for your body will keep your heart functioning better than if you continue to experience dramatic weight fluctuations.
You Walk Slowly
If you're a slow walker, it may be time to speed it up. Walking quickly on a daily basis can increase your cardiovascular health and can also reduce your risk of heart disease. According to a study published in the European Health Journal, slow walkers may be more prone to die from heart disease. Middle-aged participants who claimed they were slow walkers with no previous indication of cardiovascular problems were twice as likely to die from heart disease within a six-year period than other participants who claimed to have a faster walking pace.
This conclusion may be linked to other factors, such as the fitness level and Body Mass Index (BMI) of the participants, which were also directly related to walking pace. In most cases, slow walking study participants had higher BMIs than brisk walkers participating in the study.
The Rx: Implement an exercise routine that challenges your cardiovascular fitness. When you get physically stronger, you may find your walking pace naturally increases. You could even start your daily exercise routine by practicing a faster walking pace for 30 minutes a day.
You're a Heavy Drinker
The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that you should drink in moderation, if at all, to keep heart disease at bay. This means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. A "drink" could be considered one of the following:
- One 12-ounce beer.
- 4 ounces of wine.
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
- 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
Drinking too much alcohol raises the levels of certain triglycerides, which are fats in your bloodstream. This increase in fat in the bloodstream can raise your blood pressure or lead to a stroke. The AHA also warns that excessive drinking can "lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and an increased calorie intake." This increased calorie intake can cause belly fat or obesity, which can also raise your risk of heart disease.
The Rx: You're only putting yourself in danger if you have several drinks at one time. You don't have to kick the habit completely, but stick to the AHA's recommended daily limit of one to two drinks and you won't increase your chances for heart disease or a potentially deadly cardiac event. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick.