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Health & Wellness

8 Common Behaviors That Hurt Your Heart

By Ochsner Lafayette General
March 10, 2021

Did you know that we can prevent up to 80% of heart attacks? Simple changes to certain daily behaviors can help reduce our risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. The most common problem? Many people don’t realize the risk that some of these behaviors present. In fact, several of the ones we list may surprise you — but all of them contribute to cardiovascular damage in some way over time.

What’s worse is that the damage we deal our cardiovascular system may increase with the number of these bad habits we participate in. However, by making small lifestyle changes to avoid the eight habits listed below, you can help your heart be as healthy as possible in the years to come.

1. Sitting for Long Periods of Time

The heart and cardiovascular system as a whole thrives on movement. When we become sedentary during the day, our blood flow slows and allows fatty deposits to build up along the walls of our vessels. In fact, it’s been shown that five hours or more of sitting each day could double your risk for heart disease, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association

And thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are moving less than ever with fewer out-of-home commutes and many extracurricular fitness activities being cancelled or limited. The best solution is to find ways to break up your day with periods of movement. Try taking a five minute stretch every hour or using half your lunch period to go for a walk or do a short workout. Those little bursts of movement add up and can help keep your heart fit.

2. Not Practicing Good Dental Hygiene

While it may sound counterintuitive (after all, what do teeth have to do with heart disease?), keeping your dental health in good shape can help protect your heart — and immune system — in the long run.

Bacteria that builds up under your gums can lead to ongoing inflammation. While stressful for your immune system, that inflammation can also put added stress on your heart and cause damage over time. Gum disease has shown to increase blood pressure and even interfere with hypertension medication.

Avoiding this behavior is simple enough, though. Prioritize teeth cleaning with daily brushing — and don’t forget to floss! It’s also a good idea to find a dentist and have routine teeth cleanings and checkups throughout the year.

3. Overindulgence

Consuming more than our bodies can handle, whether it be food or alcohol, can put a lot of stress on a number of organ systems including our cardiovascular system. Overeating tends to lead to high salt or fat volumes in the blood, which can both drive up blood pressure and hurt vessel walls. Alcohol overindulgence has a similar effect with the added damage to your liver and immune system.

The recommended maximum for drinking is two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. As for food intake, try to follow a balanced diet and only eat to satiation.

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4. Not Getting Enough Sleep

Eight hours of sleep every night is the recommended amount of time that the body needs to recuperate from the day. If this number seems much higher than the amount of sleep you get every night, you might be putting unnecessary stress on your body. The brain controls all of our organs and needs rest to function properly. By not getting enough sleep, we reduce the amount of time our brain has to recover, which could increase stress on the other body systems.

Make sleep a priority by setting and committing to a bedtime and also creating a night time routine that helps your body unwind and prepare for sleep. This could be dimming lights, putting away laptops and phones or listening to soothing music.

5. Stress

Stress is not something we can always avoid, but it is something we can learn to control. When we let stress go unchecked in our body, illness and other issues can run rampant. What’s worse, a constant state of stress can have serious effects on our heart, among other body systems. The best way to approach stress management is to find healthy ways to address its triggers and reduce its effects. For some people, that means getting regular exercise, finding outlets for expression or seeking therapy. Find what works for you, and stick with it.

6. Isolation & Depression

Studies have shown that lingering unhappiness or depression from lack of socialization or being in poor relationships can raise your odds of heart disease and stroke by about as much as secondhand smoke does. Loneliness by itself has been linked to high blood pressure and other negative effects of stress. If you are struggling in this area — especially due to social distancing practices — it’s important to find ways to enjoy safe, social interaction. Consider things like starting a book club and meeting over Zoom or having a socially distanced picnic with a friend.

7. High Salt Diets

In addition to eating a balanced diet, it’s also important to watch out for the seasoning within our diet — specifically when it comes to salt. While iodized salt has its benefits, too much of it on a daily basis can raise our blood pressure over time, overwork our heart and damage our vessel walls. Diets that are high in processed meats, cheeses and junk foods tend to be much higher in salt content.

To combat this, try to eat fresh, whole foods as much as possible and cook for yourself when you can. This gives you more control over what goes into your meals and can help you cut back on unnecessary salt consumption.

8. Overwork

On average, people who work 55+ hours per week tend to develop heart disease more often than those who work between 35-40 hours. Working longer hours could be a culmination of many risk factors, such as sitting for longer periods of time, being stressed or using alcohol or drugs to cope, for example. It’s important to ensure you have a healthy work-life balance — your heart could depend on it.

Take the Next Step to Protect Your Heart

If you are unsure of your heart health, take our online assessment today. It’s a simple questionnaire that uses your answers to determine whether you may be at risk.

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