6 Everyday Things That Hurt Your Heart
You work out, you don’t smoke, and you are cutting back on eating red meat. Does this mean you are taking all the necessary steps to avoid heart disease and cardiovascular issues in the future?
We can prevent up to 80% of all heart attacks by controlling modifiable risk factors. These include lifestyle changes related to exercise, nutrition and diet and cutting back on unhealthy habits like smoking. In addition to these more significant threats, other less-well-known practices hide in plain sight and can damage your hurt over time.
The six seemingly innocent acts below are all linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. By modifying these habits, you can increase your chances of avoiding heart disease.
You Sit All Day
That new ergonomic desk chair may be great for your back, but it sure isn’t doing your heart any favors. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, sitting for more than five hours each day may double your risk for heart disease.
To make matters worse, the coronavirus pandemic has required many desk workers to shift to remote work, leading to even less movement during the day. The loss of once-daily commutes from the parking lot to a desk and all the stairs and steps required to get there have further reduced our daily movement.
Break up your day with short bursts of movement every hour or invest in a standing desk if you need to shake up your sitting routine. Many apps and wearable health technologies like Fitbit and Apple Watch offer reminders that it’s time to get up and move through a gentle alert.
You’re Not Practicing Good Dental Hygiene
What does good dental health have to do with your heart? For starters, forgetting to floss can do more than just damage your gums. The bacteria associated with gum disease cause inflammation, which may increase your chances of heart disease. Studies have also shown that gum disease tends to worsen blood pressure and can even interfere with medications prescribed to treat hypertension. Poor dental health has also been linked to certain heart valve infections.
Make it a priority to brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes with fluoride toothpaste, as well as floss. If you are a sometimes flosser, try associating the action with a simple and obvious cue. Buying lots of floss and keeping it everywhere is another way to remember this healthy habit. Form a practice by flossing every day for two weeks and see if you can extend it to a whole month. Soon you will have created a routine that will be hard to forget.
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Drinking excessively can lead to high blood pressure and obesity — two significant risk factors for heart disease. While the occasional cocktail or glass of wine is fine, anything more can be harmful to your heart health. Medical experts recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. A drink is measured as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
If your days start early and end late, you may not be getting the sleep you and your heart need. Just like you, your heart works hard all day and requires rest to recuperate. Lack of sleep puts additional stress on your heart by decreasing its recovery time. Low levels of sleep have also been tied to increased levels of stress, which can raise blood pressure and further strain your heart. Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Over time, too much stress can damage blood vessels in the heart and increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. Minimize the harmful effects of stress by learning how to effectively manage it, whether that means opening up to a loved one, taking up yoga or merely making a to-do list each night to help your brain decompress after a long day.
Too Much Salt in Your Diet
Excessive sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of heart disease. Americans consume an average of 3,300 milligrams of sodium daily, mainly from processed foods like prepared meals, cheese, potato chips and processed meats. We actually need much less than this.
The American Heart Association recommends that most people consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, so be sure to keep an eye on nutrition labels. Consuming too much salt can increase our risk of high blood pressure as well as other serious diseases like stomach cancer.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Feb. 15, 2017.