The 20 Worst Habits That Are Destroying Your Heart
It's often the things you least expect that are hurting your heart health.
Your heart does so much for you, pumping blood throughout your body 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, even though your heart's attention is always on keeping you healthy, we often don't return the favor, engaging in bad habits that put the important muscle at risk. What many people don't realize, though, is that it's not just the obvious bad heart health habits that are doing damage. Oftentimes, it's small things you wouldn't even think have negative effects in the first place. Here are the 20 worst habits that are destroying your heart. And to learn why it's never been more important to take care of all aspects of your well-being during the coronavirus pandemic, check out Your COVID Stress Could Cause This Deadly Heart Condition, Study Finds.
You sit too much.
Think about how much time you spend sitting every day. If it's more hours than you'd like to admit, make it your mission to start getting in some extra steps. In a 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found sitting for long periods of time can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease by 14 percent. It can also increase your risk of an early death by 40 percent—so, something you definitely don't want to mess around with. And for how your risk of developing certain health problems increases as you age, check out 40 Heart Risk Factors You Need to Pay Attention to After 40.
You watch too much TV.
Many people would probably admit watching TV is their favorite hobby. But while your brain loves getting sucked into those Netflix marathons, your heart isn't as big of a fan. In a 2019 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found those who watch more than four hours of TV per day are at a 50 percent greater risk of heart disease and premature death than those who watch less than two hours daily. So enjoy your favorite show, then move on to a less screen-focused activity. And for things you can do to counteract the effects of these bad habits, check out The Most Dangerous Times of the Year for Your Heart.
You don't move enough.
If you sit too much during the day, then watch TV at night, you're not moving around nearly enough as you should be. And according to Jennifer Haythe, MD, a critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Center in New York City, living a sedentary lifestyle is one of the best ways to harm your heart.
"The heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle, it needs exercise to stay fit," she says. To keep it in great shape, she recommends engaging in cardiovascular exercise at least four times a week. "It will improve your heart function, reduce blood pressure, treat stress and depression, and improve overall quality of life as you age."
You eat read meat.
If red meat is on your plate every night of week, it's time to cut back. According to Nate Favini, MD, an internist and the medical lead at Forward in San Francisco, California, there's a correlation between the increased consumption of red meat and heart disease. "The more red meat you eat, the higher your LDL cholesterol tends to be," Favini says. Because of that, he says to only eat red meat in moderation, or—better yet—avoid it altogether. And for another food that is putting your health in jeopardy right now, check out Cutting This From Your Diet Could Reduce Your Risk of COVID Death.
You don't floss everyday.
You know your dentist doesn't like it when you avoid flossing, but your doctor doesn't like the bad habit either. According to Favini, people with gum disease have a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular events. "This could be a result of poorer health in general, but we also know that periodontal disease increases inflammation in your body and inflammatory markers in your bloodstream, which are drivers of heart disease," he says. To keep your heart healthy, Favini recommends brushing your teeth twice a day, floss, and see your dentist for any severe issues.
Snorers tend to just accept that they're exactly that: snorers. But there's more to the seemingly innocuous habit than you think. Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI, found snoring causes thickening or abnormalities in the carotid arteries (which are located in your neck and carry blood to your head, brain, and face) that could put your heart at risk down the line.
"Our study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that isolated snoring may not be as benign as first suspected," lead study author Robert Deeb, MD, an otolaryngology specialist in Detroit, MI, said in a press release. "Patients need to seek treatment in the same way they would if they had sleep apnea, high blood pressure, or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease."
You let your stress levels build up.
Maybe having high levels of stress doesn't bother you too much on an everyday basis, but it can negatively impact your heart—especially when you let it build up over time. "High levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase your risk of heart disease by raising your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar," Favini says. "You don't necessarily need to avoid stress altogether, but managing your stress levels with things like exercise or meditation is important." And for more helpful information delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
You ignore your depression.
If you know you're depressed but haven't done anything to help get your mental health back on track, you could be destroying your heart. "People who have depression or depressive symptoms are at an increased risk for heart disease," Favini says. "There was a small study that provided early treatment for depression, and treating the symptoms early cut their risk of heart disease in half." Be aware of your mood and get help early if you ever notice that you're experiencing feelings of depression.
You don't go outside enough.
Getting outside isn't always easy, especially with everything going on in the world. But not doing so could hurt your heart. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension linked low levels of vitamin D to cardiovascular disease. The Mayo Clinic recommends soaking up the sunlight for no more than 15 minutes a day, three times a week. (If you're out longer than that, be sure you're wearing sunscreen on any exposed areas.) You can also add more vitamin D-rich foods to your diet.
You smoke—even just socially.
Everyone knows smoking cigarettes is bad for your heart, but it's not just the three-packs-a-day smokers who should be worried. It's also the light, social smokers who only do so every now and then. According to Harvard Medical School, while light smoking isn't as bad as heavy smoking, it can still increase your risk of heart disease. It can also result in a weakened aorta, premature death from cardiovascular disease, and a long list of other non-heart-related health issues.
Or hang around people that do.
It's not just smoking that hurts your heart—it's also breathing in secondhand smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke—whether that's at home, work, or while hanging out with friends—increase their risk of developing heart disease by up to 30 percent. Not only that, but exposure to secondhand smoke also results in more than 8,000 deaths every year.
You eat too many saturated fats.
Steak and other red meats aren't the only foods to avoid when it comes to your heart health.There's also a correlation between the increased consumption of saturated fats—like butter, cheese, creams, and other dairy products—and heart disease, Favini says. "Try to consume these foods in moderation—or not at all—to avoid health risks," he says.
And you overdo it with processed foods.
Sure, processed foods taste amazing. There's no denying that. Unfortunately, they're terrible for your heart. "Fried foods, processed cheeses, snacks, and junk food provide no nutritional benefit and actually cause harm," Haythe says. What's the alternative? She says sticking to the Mediterranean diet is a good place to start. "It's the best way to reduce cholesterol and nourish your body with healthy ingredients like fish, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fruit."
You have a sweet tooth.
If you're the owner of a major sweet tooth, you're not alone. Unfortunately, that love of sugar could get you in trouble. In a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found the participants who got 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar every day were at a 38 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. So cut down on the candy and be sure to read nutrition labels, because companies sneak added sugar into everything from yogurt to pasta sauces.
Everyone's biggest concern from overeating tends to be weight gain—or maybe a stomach ache. But filling your plate up with seconds and thirds can cause way bigger issues. According to Shaista Malik, MD, a cardiologist in Orange County, CA, heavy meals can also trigger heart attacks or heart failure—especially if you're already dealing with a heart issue, like heart disease.
"When you eat a lot of food at once, the stomach expands and the body shifts blood from the heart to the digestive system," Malik told UCI Health. "In people who already have blockage in heart arteries, any shunting of blood away from the heart can result in angina, or chest pain."
You drink too much alcohol.
While red wine in moderation has in some cases been found to be beneficial for the heart, not everyone benefits from drinking—and especially not if they go overboard. In a 2018 study published in The Lancet, researchers found those who had 10 or more drinks per week died 1 to 2 years sooner than those who drank 5 or less drinks per week. And drinking heavy—even occasionally over the holidays, for instance—can cause problems, too.
"Alcohol can be toxic to the heart—it can weaken the heart muscle. And it, too, can predispose a person to arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation," Malik told UCI Health.
You over salt your food.
While a little salt is totally fine, experts recommend keeping it under 2.3 grams a day for a reason. Antonio Perez, MD, MBA, a cardiologist in Cleveland, OH, told the Cleveland Clinic there are Americans who consume more than 6 grams of sodium per day, and past research has shown doing so can put you at an increased risk of developing heart failure in the future. Aside from being weary of how much salt you're eating at every meal, he also says to watch out for high sodium levels in things like canned foods, salad dressings, chips, and even breakfast cereals.
You get angry easily.
There are many reasons why you shouldn't let anger get the best of you, one of them being that it can hurt your heart. A 2015 study published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care found episodes of intense anger—when you're "very angry, have a tense body, and are clenching your fists or teeth"—may increase your risk of a heart attack. Sure, everyone gets mad from time to time, but nothing is ever worth hurting your health—or risking your life—for.
Your diet lacks fruits and vegetables.
If you're someone who rarely eats fruit and veggies, that bad habit has gotta stop. Instead of filling your body with processed foods that are only going to hurt your heart, up the good stuff in order to keep the muscle in top-notch condition. A 2014 meta-analysis found eating just five servings of fruit and veggies a day could lower your risk of dying from heart disease by 20 percent.
"Most of the accepted science supports five servings a day as the minimum amount that offers the greatest benefit. After that amount, the health benefits tend to level off," Vasanti Malik, a research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, told Harvard Health. "This doesn't mean that you shouldn't eat as much fruits and vegetables as possible, but rather to make sure you aim for at least five servings a day for optimal health."
You never go to the doctor.
While no one gets excited for their yearly check-up, making those appointments a commitment is really important in keeping your heart healthy. "Avoiding the doctor is a surefire way to end up with serious heart problems down the road," Haythe says. "Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States. And up to 80 percent of heart disease is preventable."
When you go to your annual doctor's visit, they'll check your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and blood sugar, and screen for any other lesser-known risk factors as well. If something is wrong, you can address it before your heart is in serious trouble. "Early and effective treatment of risk factors like hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and obesity can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in your lifetime," she says.