Heart disease is one of the biggest health threats facing most of us. However, as scary as heart disease may be, it’s also very preventable. Many of the biggest risk factors for heart disease are directly related to our lifestyle choices, from what we eat to how much we move, and even how we deal with the common stressors or modern life. Here are just a few things most of us do every day that could be damaging our hearts, and what we can do to stop the damage.
- Long hours of sitting at the office. Sitting for too long at a desk is one of the most common dangerous behaviors, because most of us do this without really considering the lasting damage it could be having on our health. In addition to hurting your back and encouraging weight gain, this common behavior can also double your risk for heart disease.
- One simple change you can incorporate into your work day is to get out of your chair every hour and walk around for about five minutes. This is a good time to maybe go get some water, catch up with a colleague, or if possible just walk outside and get some fresh air. These short bursts of activity will not only help your heart, they’re also great for rejuvenating your mind so you can get back to work more refreshed.
- Sweating the small stuff. There’s a reason that the expression “don’t sweat the small stuff” is so popular, and it’s because getting stressed out over every little setback is very dangerous for your health. Stress causes your body to release adrenaline, which can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, too much of this reaction throughout your days can increase your risks of heart attack and stroke.
- Instead of stressing out or reacting to every small event, put things into perspective and remind yourself to delay reaction as much as possible. Of course, this doesn’t mean ignoring every challenge, just take your heart into consideration the next time your computer freezes or you’re running late to a meeting.
- Regular exercise is a great way to relieve mental tension and will give you healthy coping mechanisms to dealing with common stressors.
- Emotional support from a loved one or a professional can go a long way to helping you develop healthy coping skills, especially if you have a tendency to get too stressed out or overly affected by outside factors.
- Consuming too much salt. Generally speaking, anything more than 500mg of sodium per day is considered too much sodium, and it can contribute to heart disease if unchecked. If you were to count the sodium content of the most common foods most of us eat on a daily basis, you’d be astonished by how much excessive salt we are consuming without our knowledge. More than just the occasional dash of table salt, almost every frozen or canned food source is overloaded with sodium. Additionally, common flavorings such as fish sauce also have a lot of hidden sodium.
- When using sauces or other flavoring, check the sodium content and make smart choices. Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packaged snacks, and make sure that your daily meals come from home, not the restaurant.
- Too many late nights and not enough sleep. There is no substitute for a good night’s rest, because your heart uses this time to recharge. Lack of sleep can also result in an increase in the hormone cortisol and adrenaline, similar to how your body reacts during times of high stress. Overtime, this can lead to heart attack or stroke.
- It is recommended that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep per night, while teens need 9-10 hours. So, how do you achieve this? Like anything else, your sleep time needs to be scheduled into your life as a non-negotiable.
- Avoid interruptions such as your smart phone or other electronics at bedtime. These tools have been proven to put us into a heightened state of awareness and even stress, which is not helpful when trying to go to sleep. Instead, adopt healthier pre-sleep routines such as meditation, gentle stretching, or listening to soothing sounds to help encourage your mind and body to slow down for sleep.
- Poor dental hygiene. This might be a bit of a surprise to most people, but your dental health can have a direct impact on your heart health, particularly if you fail to floss every day. Inflammation from gum disease, which is more likely to occur in people who don’t floss regularly, can cause bacteria to enter the blood vessels through your mouth, which can then travel to the coronary arteries.
- There is a very simple solution for this – brush your teeth and floss every morning and night, and maintain a regular dental care routine with your dentist.
- Too much caffeine. More than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day is too much, and can cause an increase in blood pressure and heighten your anxiety throughout the day. Overtime, this behavior can really damage your heart health. Nobody is saying that you have to give up your morning coffee or tea. Instead, consider the amount of caffeine you continue to consume throughout the day.
- You can limit your consumption of caffeine by being mindful of your beverage choices throughout the day. Fresh fruit and vegetable juice is a great way to get energy, as are herbal teas such as ginger or decaf green tea
In most cases, heart disease can be completely preventable with just changing our risky behaviors. However, when we think about “risky behaviors,” we may only be thinking about those who drink to excess, smoke regularly, or eat too many fatty meals and not enough fresh vegetables and whole grains. Unfortunately, we are less likely to consider that the person who works out regularly and never smokes could be endangering their heart because they also like to drink a lot of caffeine and hardly ever get a full night’s sleep. Some risky behaviors can disguise themselves as just normal life, so it’s up to us to identify every possible risk and make better choices to protect t our hearts.
To learn more about protecting your heart, and to identify your unique risk factors, check out the Healthy Heart Checkup Package , or speak to one of our board-certified and highly specialized cardiologists at the Heart Center . Make your appointment today, and let’s get to work protecting your heart.