You probably already know that following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are important habits for good heart health, but you probably don’t realize that there are many things you may be doing that have the opposite effect. There are multiple activities that few think twice about but can have a negative impact on heart health.
Do you have any of these in common, heart-damaging bad habits? If so, it may be time to make some changes.
1. You Sit All Day
The Mayo Clinic reports that people who sit for prolonged periods each day have a higher risk, a whopping 125 percent increase, for events linked to cardiovascular diseases, such as chest pain or a heart attack. The muscles burn less fat, and blood circulation slows during long periods of sitting which allow fatty acids to more easily clog the heart. Those with the most sedentary time are also said to be more than twice as likely to have heart disease compared to those who sit for the least amount of time.
Sitting all the time has also been linked to heart failure, something that occurs when the heart gradually gets weaker and its ability to pump the blood needed for keeping the rest of the body oxygenated is hampered. Sitting in a stationary position on a day-to-day basis can also raise your risk of high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels.
One recent study published in the journal Circulation aimed to determine why and uncovered that sitting all day is associated with a buildup of proteins known as troponins, which heart muscle cells release when they’re damaged. The experts found that people who sit for over 10 hours a day had above-normal troponin levels, while their numbers weren’t high enough to qualify them for heart-attack-level damage, the condition was referred to as “subclinical cardiac injury.” When troponin levels stay elevated, persisting chronically in those who sit for long periods each day, the researchers believe that may explain why those who are sedentary are more likely to die prematurely, particularly from heart issues, than those who don’t.
2. You’re Overstressed
If you’ve been feeling stressed over a long-term basis it can really take a toll on your heart. While it’s normal to experience stress from time to time, it’s how you handle it that affects heart health. If you keep it internalized, you’re at a much greater risk of heart problems than if you turn to stress-relief practices like physical activity, meditation, and spending time with friends.
Stress is even harder on young women’s health as research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014 discovered. For this study, over 500 patients with coronary heart disease, ranging in age from 38 to 79, underwent both a conventional physical stress test and a mental stress test while their hearts were monitored. The volunteers were asked to give a speech in front of a small group about a real-life event that caused them stress as part of the mental stress test, and on another day, their heart health was assessed by running on a treadmill. The experts looked at their hearts in order to measure any decrease in blood flow to the heart, something that’s common in people suffering from heart disease and discovered that the scans showed “dramatic differences” between men and women during the mental stress test, especially in those who were younger.
Dr. Viola Vaccarino, study author and chairwoman of Cardiovascular Research and Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, noted that the results show that young and middle-aged women may be at a great risk for high emotional stress due to the multiple burdens of stressors they face in day-to-day life, like marriage, career, taking care of the kids, and for aging parents. Biology may also play a part, including factors like exaggerated constriction of peripheral or coronary blood vessels, or a propensity toward abnormal blood vessel functioning when undergoing emotional stress.
Exercising regularly may be the most useful action you can do to lower stress levels and benefit the heart, though simply laughing, taking time for yourself, talking with a therapist, enjoying a fun hobby, and deep breathing can certainly help too.
3. You Skip The Floss
Flossing is really a must, and not only for your teeth. While brushing helps to clean the front and back of your teeth, your toothbrush usually can’t get to the food that gets stuck in between. When it’s allowed to remain, it can turn into bacteria that eats away at enamel and causes decay. Not only does that mean a higher chance of cavities, but it can result in gum disease, tooth loss – and, it can even lead to cardiovascular issues. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Periodontal Research showed that individuals diagnosed with coronary heart disease who flossed regularly tended to experience fewer cardiovascular issues. That’s because the bacteria can also get into the bloodstream, which triggers inflammation. Chronic inflammation can, in turn, spark vascular disease, and even attach to the fatty plaque in blood vessels which amplifies the inflammatory process. That can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
4. You Drink Too Much Alcohol
While one drink a day can provide some health benefits, much more than that and it starts to act like poison in the body. Men who regularly drink over three alcoholic beverages each day and women who consume at least two drinks per day have a greater risk of high blood pressure, obesity and stroke, which all negatively impact heart health, in addition to having an increased risk of liver damage, certain cancers, and depression. Women, in particular, have a greater chance of developing heart disease.
While it’s fine to have the occasional drink, avoid over-imbibing, aiming to limit yourself to one drink daily if you’re female, and three if you’re male.
5. You’re Skimping On Sleep
Your heart has to work hard all day, 24/7. If you’re skimping on sleep, your cardiovascular system is unable to get the necessary rest required for it to function like it should. The changes that occur during sleep, such as a lower heart rate and blood pressure, are believed to help enhance cardiovascular health. Without quality rest, chronic sleep deprivation can result in higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as adrenaline levels, which are similar to what’s experienced when facing a stressful situation.
Sleep has a very important role in your mental and physical health, including your heart. It’s also essential for healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels, with multiple studies determining connections between sleep deficiency, which is defined as less than six hours of sleep, and a higher risk of heart disease. An analysis of 15 medical studies published in the European Heart Journal in 2011, found that those who regularly slept for a shorter duration had a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease in a seven to 25-year follow-up period (depending on the particular study), and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke during this same period. Getting too much sleep, averaging nine or more hours a night, also had negative effects, with a 38% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease and a 65% increased risk of stroke.
6. You’re A Worry Wart
Constant worry has the same effect that chronic stress brings to health. It causes hormones to be released that harm overall well-being, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of developing heart disease. Keeping in mind that famous saying by Erma Bombeck, “Worrying is like a rocking chair but it won’t get you anywhere,” can help, as can meditation, deep breathing and other stress reduction techniques.
7. You Keep Yourself Socially Isolated
While most of us want withdrawal from the world occasionally, if you avoid social interaction all the time, it can impact your health. People who lack a strong social network of friends and family are at higher risk of developing and dying a premature death from heart disease, multiple studies have found. Some research has shown that the risk of solitude is even comparable to the risk that comes with smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
There are believed to be several reasons behind this, including that those keep themselves more socially isolated tend to get less exercise, drink and smoke more. Having social support also often means having someone to motivate you to get outdoors and enjoy physical activities, cook more healthy meals and, as mentioned earlier, relieve stress that can raise the risk of heart problems.
While mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can negatively affect heart health, loneliness is even more deadly, according to Swedish research. When the experts interviewed some 1,300 patients who were scheduled for coronary artery bypass surgery, they were asked to respond “yes” or “no” to various statements focused on their mental and physical health, like: “Things are getting me down,” or “I’m feeling on edge,” and “I’m in constant pain.” They discovered that just one of the 38 statements, “I feel lonely” was linked to both short- and long-term mortality.