Bad habits for your heart
Everyone wants to have a healthy heart. Still,cardiovascular disease affects more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States.
The good news is that some simple, everyday habits can make a big difference in your ability to live a healthy lifestyle.
Here are the worst habits for your heart, and how to avoid them.
Sitting for hours on end increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, even if you exercise regularly.
“Intermittent exercise doesn’t compensate for the time you sit,” says Harmony R. Reynolds, MD, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.
Why? The lack of movement may affect blood levels of fats and sugars.
Dr. Reynolds advises walking around periodically and, if you’re at work, standing up to talk on the phone.
Leaving hostility and depression unchecked
Are you feeling stressed, hostile, or depressed? It can take a toll on your heart.
While everyone feels this way some of the time, how you handle these emotions can affect your heart health. “Those likely to internalize stress are in greater danger; research has shown a benefit to laughter and social support,” Dr. Reynolds says.
“And it’s helpful to be able to go to someone and talk about your problems.”
Ignoring the snoring
More than a minor annoyance, snoring can be a sign of something more serious: obstructive sleep apnea. This disorder, marked by breathing that is interrupted during sleep, can cause blood pressure to skyrocket.
More than 18 million Americans adults have sleep apnea, which increases the risk of heart disease. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for sleep apnea, but slim people can have it too.
If you snore and often wake up feeling tired, talk with your doctor; there are easy ways to screen for apnea, says Robert Ostfeld, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.
While the exact reason is unknown, there is a strong link between gum disease and heart disease, Dr. Ostfeld says.
If you don’t floss, sticky, bacteria-laden plaque build up over time, which can lead to gum disease. One theory is that these bacteria trigger inflammation in the body.
“Inflammation promotes all aspects of atherosclerosis,” Dr. Ostfeld says. Treating gum disease can improve blood vessel function.
Withdrawing from the world
It’s no secret that on some days, other human beings can seem annoying, irritating, and just plain difficult to get along with.
However, it makes sense to strengthen your connections to the ones you actually like. People with stronger connections to family, friends, and society in general tend to live longer, healthier lives.
Everyone needs alone time, but you should still reach out to others and keep in touch whenever you can.
You’re either all or nothing
Call it the Weekend Warrior Syndrome.
“I see so many people in their 40s and 50s dive into exercising with good intentions, hurt themselves, and then stop exercising all together,” says Judith S. Hochman, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.
With exercise, it’s wise to aim for slow and steady. “It’s more important to have a regular exercise commitment,” says Dr. Reynolds. “Be in it for the long game.”
Drinking (too much) alcohol
Sure, studies suggest a small amount of alcohol may be good for your heart. Alas, too many over-imbibe.
Excess alcohol is linked to a greater risk of high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, and heart failure. In addition, the extra calories can lead to weight gain, a threat to heart health.
If you drink, stick to no more than two drinks per day for men, and no more than one a day for women. (One drink means a 12-ounce beer or 4-ounce glass of wine).
Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease, and 72% of men and 64% of women in the U.S are overweight or obese.
Try to eat less, avoid oversize portions, and replace sugary drinks with water.
Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Hochman also suggest cutting portion sizes for high-calorie carbohydrates (think refined pastas and breads) and watching out for foods labeled “low-fat,” which are often high in calories.
Assuming you’re not at risk
Cardiovascular disease—including stroke, heart disease, and heart failure—claims more lives in the United States than any other illness, including cancer.
“Don’t assume you’re not at risk,” says Dr. Ostfeld.
High blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, and smoking are all risk factors that should be kept in check.