You know that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly are important habits for a healthy heart. But did you know that you could still be undermining all your efforts with some surprisingly common bad habits?
The good news is that some simple, everyday habits can make a big difference in your ability to live a healthy lifestyle.
Here are the worst habits for your heart:
You Ignore Your Blues
When you feel low, it’s hard to do things that are good for you, like exercise. If you have felt down for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Talk therapy, exercise, and medication (if needed) can improve your mood so you have more energy to take care of yourself.
Sitting All Day
Compared to people with an active lifestyle, those who don’t move enough and tend to sit for five hours or more each day have double the risk for heart failure, according to a study published in January 2014 in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation: Heart Failure.
If your job requires sitting at a desk all day, get up and take a five-minute walk every hour. This small tweak in your routine can keep your arteries flexible and blood flowing properly, protecting against the negative effects of being sedentary.
Smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes is as bad for the heart and arteries as it is for the lungs. If you smoke, quitting is the biggest gift of health you can give yourself. Secondhand smoke is also toxic, so avoid it whenever possible.
Overindulging in Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and obesity — all of which increase your risk for heart disease. The AHA reports that excessive drinking — more than two drinks a day for men and one drink for women — can interrupt your normal heart rhythm and cause heart failure. It’s okay to enjoy the occasional cocktail or glass of wine, but you can protect your heart by sticking to the AHA guidelines.
Ignoring the snoring
More than 18 million Americans adults have sleep apnea, which increases the risk of heart disease. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for sleep apnea, but slim people can have it too.
Stressing Too Much
Stress spurs the body to release adrenaline, which temporarily affects how your body functions — your heart rate increases, and your blood pressure may rise. Over time, too much stress can damage blood vessels in the heart and increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Withdrawing from the world
It’s no secret that on some days, other human beings can seem annoying, irritating, and just plain difficult to get along with.
However, it makes sense to strengthen your connections to the ones you actually like. People with stronger connections to family, friends, and society in general tend to live longer, healthier lives.
Everyone needs alone time, but you should still reach out to others and keep in touch whenever you can.
Overdoing It on Salt
Excessive sodium can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease, Campbell says. Avoiding the saltshaker isn’t too difficult, but what about hidden sodium? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) reports that processed foods — including canned vegetables and soups, lunch meats, frozen dinners, chips, and other salty snacks — account for most of the salt Americans consume. Be sure to read nutrition labels and compare products, choosing the one with the lowest percent daily value for sodium. A rule of thumb to follow: The AHA recommends that most people consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Your heart works hard all day, and if you don’t get enough sleep, your cardiovascular system doesn’t get the rest it needs. Your heart rate and blood pressure dip during the first phase of sleep (the non-REM phase), then rise and fall in response to your dreams during the second phase (REM sleep). These changes throughout the night seem to promote cardiovascular health, according to the NHLBI.
Chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to high resting cortisol and adrenaline levels, similar to levels that you experience in a stressful situation, Campbell explains. He recommends that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Teens and young adults should aim for 9 to 10 hours, he says.