The 7 Worst Things for Your Heart

  • Old man at a routine medical checkup
    Avoid These Heart Hazards
    Heart 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.

  • Smoking
    1. Smoking
    Even 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.

  • Close-up of a man standing on a scale
    2. Maintaining Extra Weight
    Being 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.

  • bacon
    3. Overloading on Certain Meats
    There 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.

  • soda-can-tops
    4. Drinking Soda
    Soda 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.

  • Man with glass of whisky
    5. Drinking Alcohol Excessively
    While 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.

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    6. Sitting for Hours
    Regularly 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.

  • Man Sleeping on His Side
    7. Ignoring Your Sleep Quality
    Snoring 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

About The Author

Allison Firestone has been writing and editing professionally for over a decade. She is currently working on her doctorate in education, specializing in disability, learning, and childhood mental health. She has a master’s in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s in special education from the University of Oregon.
  1. Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. American Heart Association.
  2. Alcohol and Heart Health. American Heart Association.
  3. Cardiovascular, Inflammatory and Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Journal of Progress in Cardiovascular Disease.
  4. Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with an Increase Risk of Vascular Events in the Northern Manhattan Study. Journal of General Internal Medicine.
  5. Dietary Guidelines. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
  6. Healthy Eating Plate. Harvard School of Public Health.
  7. Heart Disease Facts. CDC.
  8. How Does Smoking Affect the Heart and Blood Vessels. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  9. Heart Disease and Diet. Medline Plus.
  10. Overweight and Heart Disease. Cleveland Clinic.
  11. Sleep Apnea. Mayo Clinic.
  12. What Are the Risks of Sitting Too Much? Mayo Clinic.
  13. WHO Report Says Eating Processed Meat is Carcinogenic: Understanding the Findings. Harvard School of Public Health.
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Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 15
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