Here are 10 habits to avoid if you want to improve your heart health.
1. Be a couch potato
Not moving enough, especially on a regular basis, is risky for your health. Inactivity has been associated with cognitive decline, increased frailty, and even an increased risk of death. Fortunately, almost any activity that increases your heart rate is a good place to start.
It is important to move your body and elevate your heart rate for at least 150 minutes each week. You should also participate in strength training twice a week, according to the physical activity guidelines for Americans set by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
It may sound like a lot of exercise, but it doesn’t have to be done all at once. As long as you increase your heart rate for 15 minutes or more at a time, it counts. Plus, “activity” doesn’t just mean a walk, a gym class, or a bike ride. It could be gardening, shopping, walking the dog or cleaning.
âYou don’t have to do anything to run marathons,â says Quentin Youmans, MD, a cardiology researcher at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “In fact, the biggest benefit is doing nothing to do something. Just start by devoting yourself to doing some activity every day to get your body moving.”
Yet a 2014 survey found that more than a quarter (27.5%) of people over 50 reported not having done any physical activity (other than work) in the past month. Among the older age group – 75 and over – just over a third (35.3%) of people said the same.
2. Drinking too much alcohol
âNot everyone recognizes the link between heart health and alcohol,â Youmans says. But drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, cause an irregular heartbeat “and even have a direct toxic effect on the heart.”
In fact, getting too wet “can lead to heart failure or a weakening of the heart,” says Amber Johnson, MD, cardiologist and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
How much is too much? Women should drink up to one drink per day, and men should limit their intake to two or less, according to HHS guidelines.
3. Skimp on sleep
Not getting your seven (or eight or nine) hours closed your eyes overnight will slowly, but reliably, harm your health, including your heart.
“Poor quality sleep or untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure and affect heart health,” Lewsey cautions. Lack of sleep has also been linked to diabetes and weight gain, which also have a negative effect on heart health.
Additionally, sleep apnea can “cause abnormal heart rhythms,” Johnson points out.
4. Opt for unhealthy foods
Heart-healthy eating includes an array of delicious options: fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, and whole grains. Data suggests that a so-called Mediterranean diet – mostly plants, with “good fats” like nuts, almonds, olive oil and avocados – promotes good heart health. This âstyle of eating limits red meat; fish and poultry are OK, as long as you keep that protein under 5.5 ounces per day.
Substitute water for soda – lots of water. Beware of processed, sugary, and fried foods, and be careful about what you eat and drink when dining out. Foods high in saturated and trans fats, salt and cholesterol are better reserved for special occasions than for the everyday.
âAvoiding the high sodium content is really important,â adds Johnson. The American Heart Association recommends that most adults consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, with 2,300 mg as the upper limit.
Pay attention to these numbers in your routine blood tests as well. Beware of too much bad cholesterol (LDL) and / or triglycerides and not enough good cholesterol (HDL). In addition, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels. In fact, people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease; in addition, they are more likely to suffer from heart failure.
So try not to âovereat the food,â Youmans warns. âWe all love that slice of pizza or that juicy burger, and, in fact, every now and then, those foods can be okay. But when our diet consists of foods that are high in fat and sugars all the time, that begins to negatively affect our heart health. A Mediterranean diet is a great alternative, âhe says, adding that it can be tasty.
5. Live a lonely life
It is so important to have a group of friends and family to lean on. Unfortunately, this is not as common as you might think. More than a third of adults aged 45 and over “are alone, and nearly a quarter of” people aged 65 and over are considered socially isolated, research finds. This circumstance is often terrible for your health, including your heart.
This is why it is crucial to find a group of people who will support you and make you feel fulfilled. Try to “seek out community resources and support groups to help you with these lifestyle changes,” Lewsey says, and work on “building a support network” to help you along the way.
Certain populations are at higher risk of social isolation, including immigrants, LGBTQ people, minorities and victims of elder abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ideally, the health care system would be designed to be more inclusive, says Johnson, so that “we are better able to provide services … that are culturally appropriate, so that we can reach more people.”
The CDC lists a number of resources that people who feel lonely or socially isolated can use. Among them is AARP and its Community Connections tool, which works to connect adults with others in their community.
6. Smoking tobacco
Whether you vape or smoke cigarettes or cigars, tobacco is terrible for your health. Second-hand tobacco smoke is too. Most people know this, but what you might not realize is that tobacco doesn’t just ravage your lungs and cause cancer: âYour heart is a victim too.
âEven in someone who has smoked for a long time, there are immediate and lasting cardiovascular benefits to quitting,â explains Lewsey.
Tobacco damages blood vessels and causes plaque build-up (atherosclerosis), which can trigger a heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, and eventually heart failure.
What can you do? âSet a quit date,â Youmans says. “Warn your friends and / or relatives so that they can hold you accountable and use nicotine replacement therapy or other medications to help you quit with the help of your doctor.”
You can find tips and other help on the CDC website.
7. Minimize your mental health
Managing stress is essential for staying healthy. If the anxiety gets out of hand, we are more likely to do things that are harmful. Plus, stress increases your blood pressure. To combat this, try to find something you like that will help you calm down and breathe easier. For some people, it is meditation. Others enjoy hiking, cooking, or playing board games with friends.
Can anxiety or panic attacks damage your heart? Not usually. Rarely, however, can heartache really hurt your ticker. The disease is colloquially known as broken heart syndrome, and it’s “a type of heart failure,” says Johnson. “If you are under very intense stress, like if you are in a car accident or if your loved one suddenly dies, it can cause a weakening of the heart,” she says.
The solution is often medication (like beta blockers) plus a plan to deal with stress in a healthy way.
8. Wait to lose weight
Carrying extra weight, especially around your waist, is bad for your heart.
Obesity itself is a risk factor for heart disease. Researchers have found that the heavier you are, the higher your risk for heart disease – it’s a so-called silent heart injury, even if you feel healthy, even if your numbers look good.
It’s also true that being overweight or obese can increase your cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, and blood pressure levels. All of these factors damage your heart and increase your risk of developing heart disease. Obesity is also often linked to diabetes.
“A word of advice is to buy a scale, because knowledge is power, and that will help you keep track,” suggests Youmans. “To help move the scale in the right direction, remember that you need to burn more calories than you eat, so try to be more active and eat fewer calories.”
Your doctor can track your body mass index (BMI), which has been cited as an imperfect and even problematic measurement. No matter how you follow it, if you are overweight or obese, losing 5% to 7% weight is likely to have a positive impact on your health, including numbers that affect your heart: blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. (including diabetes).
9. Neglecting your teeth
Although a clear scientific link between dental hygiene and “coronary heart health” has not been established (this is still an open question), some researchers claim that there is an association between the two. Simply put, poor oral health often means poor heart health. Gum disease is associated with heart disease, and bacterial infections and inflammation also appear to play a role.
“Good dental health, with regular cleanings, is also important [for] overall heart health, âLewsey says.
Despite this advantage, nearly 40 percent of people 65 and older have not seen a dentist in the past year, according to a 201 6 National Health Interview Survey.
10. Give up too soon
Good heart health is often difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain, especially when everyone around you continues to do things that you know are not right for you.
âA lot of these health behaviors that we have deemed important vary from community to community or culture to culture,â says Johnson, who works in Pittsburgh. “Some cultures may not eat foods considered to be heart healthy […] so there may be disparities. “
Above all, it is important not to give up. And, hey, try to be patient.
âChanging the habit is difficult,â Youmans says. “It may take a while to break them, especially if they are nice.”
He adds: âAnything worth acquiring takes time. Making a small change that you can maintain for a long time is much more important than a larger change which can be more difficult to maintain. ”
And every day is an opportunity to be healthier, whether it’s walking past the jar of candy, meditating, or taking the stairs. Prepare your lunch the night before instead of grabbing a fast food. Set up a weekly social group. Get 15 more minutes of sleep. Do it over and over and over again.