20 Ways You Didn't Realize You're Ruining Your Heart
Understanding these risk factors is the first step toward taking control of your heart health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in every four deaths in the United States is attributable to heart disease. And heart disease doesn't discriminate—it's the leading cause of death for both men and women alike. But even if you exercise every day, keep your stress levels low, and haven't let a French fry go down the hatch in years, that doesn't mean you're necessarily in the clear when it comes to your heart health. Knowing the risk factors for heart disease is the first step toward taking control. Some of the habits putting your health at risk might just surprise you—so read on.
It's time to stop lying to yourself about coffee being a substantial breakfast. Not only does a cup of joe lack the nutrients you need to get through the day, but research shows that people who eat energy-rich meals in the morning are less likely to develop heart disease.
A 2019 study presented at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session even found that people who eat high-energy breakfasts—meaning that they make up more than 20 percent of their daily caloric intake—are more likely to have cleaner and healthier arteries than those who skip their morning meal.
Watching too much television
Worried about the status of your ticker? Then you might want to put down the remote and find a more active hobby instead—especially if you spent quarantine binging even more than you usually do. The same 2019 study that revealed a correlation between a big breakfast and a healthy heart also found that people who watch more than 21 hours of TV per week have almost twice the risk of plaque buildup in their arteries compared to those who spend under seven hours catching up on their stories.
Working in a negative environment
You can officially now add heart disease to the list of things to blame your bad boss for. One 2006 meta-analysis published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health found that people who dislike their boss and work in a high-stress environment—which you don't have to be in an actual office to experience—are, on average, 50 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
Working insanely long hours
It's high time that you put an end to those 60-hour work weeks. Not only are those long hours bad for your mental health, but they might also increase your risk of stroke. According to research published in The Lancet in 2015, employees who worked more than 55 hours per week were more likely to both have a stroke (33 percent) and develop coronary heart disease (13 percent) when compared to their peers who worked 40-hour weeks.
Living at low altitudes
Living at high altitudes means cooler temperatures, greater snowfall, and apparently, decreased risk of heart disease. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, people who live at altitudes between 457 and 2,297 meters are less likely to develop metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that heightens the risk of heart disease and stroke—than those at sea level.
Poor oral hygiene
Your dentist isn't just looking out for your oral health when he or she reminds you to floss every night. Per a 2016 study published in the BMJ Postgraduate Medical Journal, oral bacteria can "promote conditions such as cardiovascular disease" when left to fester.
Sitting all day
There's no time like the present to invest in one of those fancy standing desks, especially if you are still working from home due to the pandemic. When researchers at the University of Leicester studied sedentary behaviors in 2012, they found a correlation between a desk-bound job and poor heart health. Specifically, people who sat at a desk all day had a 150 percent increased risk of a heart attack.
You probably assumed that yo-yo dieting isn't great for your mental health, but it's also bad for your heart health on top of it. Research presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) convention in 2019 revealed that women who reported at least one incidence of yo-yo dieting—in which they lost 10 pounds and regained it within a year—were 65 percent less likely to have an overall "optimal" rating on AHA's Life's Simple 7, which measures how under control one's heart disease risk factors are.
Your mental and physical health are more connected than you think. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Circulation, psychologically distressed adult women had a 44 percent greater risk of stroke than a control population.
Meanwhile, men between the ages of 45 and 79 experiencing depression or anxiety had a 30 percent increased risk of heart attack.
It's time to pick up the phone and invite a friend out for drinks tonight—if it's safe to do so, otherwise stick to a virtual hang—it might just be the key to ensuring that your heart stays healthy. Per a 2016 analysis published in the journal Heart, people who don't work on their friendships and relationships have a 29 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent greater risk of stroke.
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Not graduating high school
Evidently, having a high school diploma helps you just as much physically as it does economically. A 2017 study published in the International Journal for Equity in Health analyzed data on more than 267,000 Australian men and women collected over the course of three years. The researchers found that the less education a person had, the more likely they were to have suffered a heart complication.
It's true what they say about an apple a day, even when it comes to your heart. A 2016 study of more than 500,000 participants found that those who ate fresh fruit daily had lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels than those who never or rarely consumed fresh fruit.
The study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, deduced that about 100 grams of fruit (about one banana or half an apple) a day was associated with a decreased chance of death from heart problems.
Having an autoimmune disease
Autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease, lupus, and type 1 diabetes all target and attack the body's own healthy tissues and cause inflammation. And since inflammation can cause buildup of plaque that leads to arterial blockages, people with autoimmune diseases are at greater risk for developing heart disease.
Researchers have found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, have a 50 percent increased risk of heart attack within just one year of their diagnosis.
Getting the flu
While you're probably focused on staying safe from the coronavirus, here's a pretty persuasive reminder to get your flu shot every year: According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018, coming down with the flu makes you six times more likely to have a heart attack for at least a year after your infection. Evidently, the same virus that causes the flu can migrate to your heart.
Shingles is unpleasant enough, but the illness—which can develop in folks who had the Chickenpox as a child—also increases your chances of heart complications.
Those who get the itchy, scabby ailment are 41 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular event, according to a 2017 study from South Korea published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study also found that those with shingles had a 59 percent increased risk for heart attack.
Living in the South
Between 2009 and 2010, "the vast majority of high-rate clusters [of heart disease deaths] were south of the Mason-Dixon line," according to a 2016 study published in the journal Circulation. Scientists found that the percent of Southerners who entered the top quintile for heart disease mortality increased from 24 percent to 38 percent between 1973 and 2009.
Being tall isn't just ideal for reaching those high-up kitchen cabinets—it's also beneficial in the fight against heart disease. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 found that for every 6.5 cm decrease in genetically-determined height, a person had a 13.5 percent increase in their risk of coronary artery disease. The study authors believe that this link "is partly explained by the association between shorter height and an adverse lipid profile."
Having sleep apnea
Your sleep apnea isn't just leaving you exhausted in the morning—it's affecting your heart as well.
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine included 1,645 participants, none of whom had known heart problems. It turned out, those with obstructive sleep apnea had higher levels of hs-TnT, a biomarker that increases a person's risk of a future heart attack.
Most people already know the correlation between a higher body mass index and poor heart health. However, even a person's perception of their own weight can influence their risk of heart disease.
In a 2018 study published in the journal Obesity, overweight individuals "who self-stigmatize" had more cardiometabolic risk factors.
Not laughing enough
Having a sense of humor and being able to laugh at yourself positively affects both your mind and your heart. A 2009 study from the University of Maryland Medical Center published in the journal Nature found that laughing makes the inner lining of blood vessels expand and increase blood flow, which improves your heart health.
An earlier study from the same researchers found that people with heart disease responded to questionnaires with less humor to everyday life situations than those with a normal cardiovascular system. So, laugh often!