The 7 Worst Things for Your Heart
- Avoid These Heart HazardsHeart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, causing about one in every four deaths. While some risk factors are out of your control—like family history—there are choices you can make to improve your heart health, and this includes knowing what not to do. Make sure you’re avoiding these seven bad habits to keep your heart going strong for years to come.
- 1. SmokingEven occasional smoking harms nearly every organ in your body, including your heart. The chemicals in cigarettes damage how your cardiovascular system functions, which increases your risk of atherosclerosis, a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up in your arteries, causing them to narrow and harden. This is known to cause coronary heart disease, which often ends in heart attack and death. Know that no matter how long you’ve been smoking, quitting will benefit your heart.
- 2. Maintaining Extra WeightBeing overweight is linked to several factors that heighten your risk for heart disease, including high blood pressure. To maintain a healthy weight, try to stick to the USDA Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation that half of each meal be fruits and veggies. Scramble a little spinach into morning eggs, for example, or mix vegetables into your pasta. If you’re struggling, seek out a dietician who specializes in helping people revamp their diets for better heart health.
- 3. Overloading on Certain MeatsThere is evidence showing that a high intake of red and processed meats, like sausage and bacon, increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that the more of these meats you eat, the higher your risk of developing heart problems. However, this doesn’t mean you have to cut out these foods all together. Instead, think like the Harvard School of Public Health recommends, and treat red meat like lobster—an occasional indulgence to enjoy.
- 4. Drinking SodaSoda puts your heart at risk, too. One study followed 2,500 people for 10 years and found that those who regularly drank diet soda were more likely to experience a stroke or heart attack and die from vascular disease—even after researchers controlled for factors like smoking, exercise, sodium intake and high cholesterol. Sugary soda is potentially damaging, too. Research has shown that people consuming too much added sugar, like that in soda, have a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
- 5. Drinking Alcohol ExcessivelyWhile a daily glass of red wine has health benefits, excessive alcohol is linked to cardiovascular problems. Drinking more than three drinks per day can have a toxic effect on your heart, leading to high blood pressure, an enlarged and weakened heart, and a higher level of fat stored in your body. A good rule of thumb (and heart): Have no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two for men.
- 6. Sitting for HoursRegularly sitting for multiple hours at a time can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke, even if you exercise regularly. Research has linked prolonged sitting with obesity, higher blood pressure, and an increased likelihood of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Experts think the lack of activity affects the levels of fats and sugars in your blood. You can counteract this risk by moving whenever you can, taking walks around the office, or even using a standing desk.
- 7. Ignoring Your Sleep QualitySnoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a disorder in which your breathing starts and stops throughout the night. This causes sudden drops in your oxygen levels, which spikes blood pressure and strains your heart. If you wake up with a hoarse throat, or your partner reports heavy snoring, bring it up to your doctor. Your time sleeping matters, too, as research has shown a link between sleep deprivation and cardiovascular problems. Remember to aim for eight hours each night.
The 7 Worst Things for Your Heart