Your heart is one of the hardest working organs in the body, pumping around 2,000 gallons of the life-giving fluid around the body every single day. And when things are going well—you eat the right diet and exercise regularly and practice moderation with things like alcohol—it’s a healthy, hugely efficient machine.
But if you fall into bad habits, well, that’s where trouble begins. So read on for the 17 things that will make your cardiologist have a nervous breakdown—and stop them immediately! And for more ways to keep your most important organ in tip-top shape, learn the 40 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease After 40.
Yes, yes. It goes without saying. But hear us out—for the umpteenth time.
Smoking impairs blood flow by constricting your blood vessels and forcing your heart to work harder. If you do smoke (or hang around a smoker), you already know if can be a tough habit to break. Try nicotine replacement therapy (gums, skin patches, inhalers, and lozenges), antidepressants and other drugs, or even counseling. And for more tricks that’ll keep your ticker as strong as steel, check out the 30 Best Ways to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk.
2 Being sedentary too much
Spend a lot of time on your couch Netflixing and chilling? You’re not helping your heart, as long periods of sitting have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Even if you work out hard for 30 minutes—and then sit around all day—you are still at risk, so make an effort to move every hour. Remember: smartphone apps, along with smart watches and fitness trackers, can help you hit this goal. And know that Eating This One Thing Daily Can Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease.
3 Eating too many fried foods
Delicious and delectable, fried foods are unfortunately little morsels of heart-harming bombs that studies have found can raise your risk of heart failure by 68 percent!
Granted, you’ve got to scarf down fried treats upwards of seven times a week for that much increased chance, but even one to two times a week equaled an 18 percent greater risk. And if you want to learn more about how your diet predicts your heart health, check out 40 Heart Foods To Eat After 40.
4 Letting your stress go unchecked
Failing to deal with emotional issues can be just as risky to your heart health as failing to exercise or eat healthy, so make sure to take stock of your mental health regularly.
Stress can put pressure on your heart by raising adrenaline along with making you more likely to engage in bad habits such as smoking, drinking, and overeating. And if you’re finding yourself stressed out often, be sure to try these 10 Best Non-Exercise Stress Busters.
5 Drinking too much
Though most studies find a small benefit to heart health from drinking alcohol moderately every day—two drinks a day for men, one for women—binging or slinging back lots of drinks in a single sitting can wreak havoc on your heart by raising blood fats.
Drinking too much is also linked to high blood pressure, cancer, and obesity. And if you’re curious to see where you stand with your alcohol intake, Here’s What Your Drinking Habits Say About Your Health.
6 Eating too much
Overeating—and the resulting weight gain—puts stress on multiple systems in your body, but it’s the heart that bears the brunt of the assault by increasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And gaining weight means your heart will have a harder time pumping blood around the body, boosting risk for heart attack and stroke.
7 Ignoring gum health
Not many people realize that gum heath is closely related to heart health, but recent studies have revealed a link. Inflammation is a key part of both gum disease and heart disease, and bad bacteria are related to both, so along with other heart healthy habits, add flossing to your daily healthy heart checklist.
8 Putting off physicals
As you age you should make sure to have regular physicals with your doctor. After your 20s, try to go in about once every two years. When you approach middle age, you should hit up your GP at least once a year.
Also, be sure to get regular blood pressure every 2 years—no matter your age—and get your cholesterol every 5 years after 40.
9 Shunning fruits and veggies
Loading up on plenty of produce is an essential part of heart health, so if you aren’t already friends with fruits and veggies, start filling your grocery cart with more. The American Heart Associating recommends getting at least 4.5 cups a day. Pro trick: A recent study published in Psychology & Marketing found that eating a bite of apple before hitting the supermarket aisles can increase your fruit and veggie purchases by upwards 28 percent!
10 Building up sleep debt
Sleep has recently been found to be much more important for overall health than we ever thought. Research shows that sleeping less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours each night can lead to high blood pressure and increased levels of inflammation, which directly affects the heart.
Insomnia has also been linked to high blood pressure and heart problems. So if you’re having trouble hitting the hay, learn the 11 Doctor-Approved Secrets for Falling Asleep Faster—Tonight.
11 Loading up on salty snacks
Be conscious of your salt intake. After all, excess sodium in your diet can cause the body to retain fluids, which can raise your blood pressure and restrict your arteries.
The American Heart Association recommends you stay under 1,500 mg of sodium per day. And if you’re finding that you’re overdoing it in the sodium department, cut back immediately on processed and packaged products, as well as gluttonous meals at restaurants, where chefs are known to shower dishes with salt.
12 Shying away from weight lifting
Lots of people are into exercising, but all too often they just stick to the treadmill. For maximum health and fitness—along with getting your heart in to tip-top shape—don’t be afraid to start up a free weight routine. Lifting heavy weights has been shown to reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow to the limbs.
13 Shoveling in sugary treats
As we’ve learned more and more in recent years, the main villain in your diet isn’t actually fat—it’s sugar. And it’s the insidious force largely driving the obesity epidemic in America, which affects at least 40 percent of the population. It’s a no brainer, but it’s important to repeat it here: Try to cut out the white stuff as much as possible.
Eating foods with added sugar is linked to increased risk of heart disease. Of course, your body needs sugar, but it’s better to get it from whole fruits, dark chocolate, and dairy products.
14 Not considering HIIT
Most people know that cardio workouts that get your heart pumping and pounding are essential to strengthening your ticker and helping it work more efficiently. But if you’re pressed for time, doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can provide similar heart health benefits.
These short, but intense, workouts can be mixed with regular cardio throughout the week for maximum benefits. For expert instruction wading into the world of short-burst exercise, see The Single Greatest HIIT Routine for Your Heart.
15 Snoring loudly every night
Snoring isn’t just an annoyance for your partner as they struggle to sleep every night. Chronic slumber snuffling could also be a sign of sleep apnea, in which you stop breathing while sleeping for 10 to 20 seconds, upwards of hundreds of times per night. Sleep apnea raises the risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, so don’t hesitate to get checked out if your partner disappears to the couch every night to get some decent sleep.
16 Slacking off on your workouts
If you don’t stick with exercising regularly, all of that work won’t be as impactful. Experts recommend that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week, along with strength training for all major muscle groups two times a week. Remember: that’s every week, not just when you feel up to it!
17 Ignoring symptoms
If you realize that a bunch of these aforementioned habits are uncomfortably familiar, then you may already be having some symptoms of heart disease. The key, though, is to not ignore them—if you experience dizziness or light-headedness, fatigue and exhaustion, or swelling feet and legs, visit your doc ASAP.
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