23 Habits Women Don’t Realize Are Hurting Their Hearts
A few lifestyle tweaks, and you'll have a ticker as strong as steel.
Heart disease kills nearly 300,000 American women each year, accounting for nearly a quarter of all female deaths in the United States. However, when it comes to your heart health, it’s not just obvious risk factors—like an unhealthy diet or excessive weight gain—that can harm you.
Sitting at your desk all day, for instance, might be the very thing that lands you in the hospital with a heart attack down the road. And though you might think that using sugar substitutes is better for you in the long run, those artificial sweeteners are actually just raising your blood pressure and hurting your health. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So keep reading for some advice that you really should take to heart.
Holding On to Pent-Up Anger
Letting go of negative emotions like rage isn’t just good for your mental state. According to one study published in the journal Acute Cardiovascular Care, episodes of intense anger—in which one is “very angry” and “clenching [their] fists or teeth”—are associated with increased risk for a heart attack, and that increased risk can persist for up to two hours after the rage has subsided.
“As our emotions rise, the physiological stress on our heart is exacerbated as our blood pressure increases and our heart rate speeds up,” explains Dr. Don Grant, a general practitioner with The Independent Pharmacy. “As a consequence, we are at greater risk of suffering a cardiac event in the hours immediately after our anger spikes.”
Avoiding Social Situations
Strong friendships are the key to a strong heart. That’s according to a study published in the journal Heart, which found that people with self-reported poor social relationships had a 29 percent increased risk of coronary disease compared to those with healthy bonds.
Using Artificial Sweeteners
If you’re going to put some sort of sweetener in your morning cup of coffee, you’re better off opting for real sucrose over an artificial sweetener. Though sugar substitutes like Splenda and Equal are touted as weight loss wonders, the reality is that they do more harm than good—in terms of both your waist and your wellbeing. In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers found a link between the ingestion of artificial sweeteners and weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and other health complications.
Drinking Too Much
Though people most commonly associate alcoholism with liver diseases, drinking too much can also have a negative impact on your heart health. According to the CDC, too much alcohol in your system can cause hypertension, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease. And what’s more, excess alcohol consumption also elevates a person’s triglycerides, a type of cholesterol, which can harden your arteries and potentially lead to a blood clot.
Yo-yo dieting is a big no-no, both for your sanity and your heart. In one study presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2019, researchers found that, among the 485 women they studied, those who had lost weight and regained it within one year were 65 percent less likely to be rated as optimal on American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, which measures how well-controlled people’s heart disease risk factors, like BMI and blood pressure, are.
Living in a Noisy Area
City slickers tend to have weaker tickers. That’s according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2018, which found a correlation between ambient noise levels and risk for cardiovascular disease. Evidently, excessive noise triggers activity in the amygdala, which in turn sets off a pathway that causes blood vessel inflammation.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
“The importance of a good night’s sleep for heart health is critical,” says Dr. Stacey Rosen, a cardiologist and vice president of The Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell Health in New York. And every hour counts when it comes to the health of your heart; one study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology studied nearly 4,000 individuals with varying sleep schedules and found that those who slept less than six hours were 27 percent more likely to have atherosclerosis—or plaque buildup in the arteries—than those who got the recommended seven to eight hours.
And Not Getting Good Enough Sleep
Unfortunately, the same sleep study also found a correlation between heart health and quality of sleep. In the study, the subjects who tossed and turned all night were 34 percent more likely to have atherosclerosis compared to those who slept soundly.
Eating Blackened Food
While cooking your food thoroughly enough to avoid getting food poisoning is something you should always, always do, be careful not to blacken it. Otherwise, you run the risk of harming your ticker. “Eating a diet high in inflammatory foods is a big risk factor. Fatty cuts of meat that are grilled until they’re charcoal increases [cardiovascular disease] risk,” says clinical nutritionist and fitness expert Ariane Hundt, MS.
Though e-cigarettes were ostensibly supposed to help cigarette smokers slowly wean off of tobacco, they can actually spur a new addiction among those who use them—and they’re no less dangerous than their paper counterparts. Per one study presented this year at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session, people who vape are 56 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack and 30 percent more likely to have a stroke compared to folks who don’t use any tobacco products.
Consuming Too Much Salt
If you’re not already monitoring your sodium intake, now is a good time to start. According to the American Heart Association, excess sodium in the bloodstream can raise your blood pressure and eventually lead to dangerous health issues like plaque build-up and weakened blood vessel walls. And though eating a lot of salt might not seem like a big deal, a surprising number of cardiovascular disease cases are attributable to this food staple. Of all the heart disease deaths that occurred in the Chinese province of Shandong in 2011, for instance, approximately one-fifth can be linked to high-sodium diets, per one study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Not Exercising Enough
You already know that taking a stroll or doing HIIT classes a few times a week is good for the heart, but did you know that not exercising can actually have the opposite effect? In fact, according to one study published in the journal JAMA Network Open, not going to the gym is worse for your health and heart than smoking or diabetes. “Sedentary Western lifestyles have led to a higher incidence in heart disease and this shows that it’s modifiable,” cardiologist Dr. Satjit Bhusri explained to CNN. “It’s reversible. It’s all about getting up and moving.”
Neglecting Chronic Stress
It’s really how you handle your stress that determines whether or not it ultimately plays a role in your heart health. Far too many people turn to bad habits like overeating, binge drinking, and smoking in times of chaos, for instance, and all of these are factors that can increase heart disease risk. Plus, unmanaged stress can disrupt a good night’s rest, and we already know that not sleeping well is one of the worst habits for your heart.
Sitting All Day
Take advantage of every free moment you have at work to move around. When researchers from the University of Leicester studied the relationship between sedentary behaviors and cardiovascular disease, they found that the most desk-bound individuals had a nearly 150 percent increased risk of a heart complication compared to those who were often on their feet. Even if you work a desk job, you have no excuse for being sedentary all day. (Pro tip: get a treadmill desk!)
Brushing Off Symptoms
“The overall worst thing a woman can do for her heart is underestimate the problem,” says Dr. Matthew Budoff, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine and director of cardiac CT at the Division of Cardiology at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Unfortunately, though, this is a relatively frequent phenomenon seen in the medical community. When the American College of Cardiology surveyed 1,011 women, approximately 45 percent said that they weren’t aware of just how deadly heart disease is, and 71 percent had never once brought up their heart health with their physician.
As it turns out, your oral health and heart health are inextricably linked. According to one study published in the BMJ Postgraduate Medical Journal, oral bacteria can contribute to a person’s risk of atherosclerosis—or hardening and narrowing of the arteries—which ultimately can increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
Switching Jobs Like They’re Clothing
Going through a career change is traumatic, and not just from an emotional standpoint. As if switching salaries isn’t hard enough on your savings and inner sense of stability, one study published in the journal Circulation recently found that extreme income volatility is associated with more than double the risk for cardiovascular issues, like heart attacks and strokes.
Eating Too Many Sugary Foods
If you care about your heart health, then put the donut down! Of course, the occasional croissant or cruller isn’t going to land you in the hospital, but research published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that people who took in 25 percent or more of their daily calories as sugar over a 15-year period were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease.
Going Through Menopause
Of course, no woman can control whether or not she goes through menopause (no matter how hard she tries). However, women should still be aware that this natural part of the aging process does affect the heart—and not in a good way.
“When a woman’s body stops producing estrogen as a result of menopause, they are at greater risk of a cardiac event as a result,” explains Dr. Grant. “Estrogen plays a vital role in a healthy, functioning heart by helping to alleviate the buildup of fat in the arteries. Consequently, menopause can leave a woman at greater risk of heart disease.”
Sleeping Too Much
According to one study from the Journal of the American Heart Association, getting more than the recommended eight hours per night is just as bad as, if not worse than, sleeping too little. The study’s researchers found that people who got nine hours of shut-eye had a moderate risk of cardiovascular disease, while those who slept 11 hours a night saw a nearly 44 percent increase in their risk.
Not Having Enough Sex
It’s time to make sexy time less sporadic—if not for your relationship, then at least for your heart health. One meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Cardiology determined that people who had sex once a month or less were at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
New moms say that having a newborn is one of the most heartwarming feelings in the world. What they don’t realize, however, is that giving birth is actually not all that great for the heart—at least not physically speaking. One meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology recently revealed that the more times a woman gives birth, the greater her risk of a heart attack is.
Not Getting Outside Enough
Want to keep your heart healthy? The easiest solution is simple: get outside and enjoy the fresh air! According to a study published in Current Epidemiology Reports, being outside among greenery and vegetation can both improve a person’s mental heath and protect them against cardiovascular disease. If that’s not a win-win, we don’t know what is? And for more amazing women’s health advice, here are 13 Signs of a Heart Attack Women Can’t Afford to Miss.
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