40 Habits That Increase Your Chances of a Heart Attack After 40
A longer, healthier life starts now.
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women worldwide. Approximately 610,000 individuals die from the condition in the United States alone each year. And unfortunately, while some things get better with age, the health of your heart is unlikely to be one of them. While under one percent of men and women under 39 will have a heart attack, that number goes up precipitously after 40. Between the ages of 55 and 64, 12.5 percent of men and six percent of women will have experienced a heart attack or have been diagnosed with fatal coronary disease.
The good news? There's still time to scale back on the habits that increase your risk of heart attack after 40. By making changes now, you can still have many healthy years to look forward to. And for more ways to stay healthy, check out these 40 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease After 40.
Your oral health and your heart health are more connected than you think. According to a 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 can significantly increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
Drinking too much
A glass of red wine once in a while might have some heart health benefits, but regular drinking can increase your risk of a heart attack. "Too much alcohol can increase blood pressure, and triglycerides, which can increase your risk of heart disease," says Dr. Sarin Seema of EHE Health.
Her recommendation? "Women should have no more than one drink a day. Men should have no more than two drinks a day."
Sleeping too much
While skimping on sleep is bad for your body, getting too much sleep can be worse for your heart health than getting too little.
A review of research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reveals that getting more than eight hours of sleep can significantly increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, with a moderate risk for those who got nine hours of sleep and nearly a 44 percent increase among those logging 11 hours a night.
Keep those friendships strong now—they might just help you live a longer, healthier life. According to a study published in the journal Heart, social isolation can significantly increase a person's risk of having a heart attack. Those who reported poor social relationships had a 29 percent greater chance of having coronary disease than those with healthier friendships.
Eating too much sugar
If you want to decrease your risk of a heart attack, start by cutting out those sneaky sugars in your diet. "Eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods increases insulin and in turn inflammation, which creates damage to the arteries," says clinical nutritionist and fitness expert Ariane Hundt, MS. "The resulting increase in cholesterol is then used to patch up the arterial damage. Over time, this buildup of plaque leads to a narrowing of the arteries," contributing to your risk of heart disease.
While bailing on a lackluster marriage may be good for you in the long run, you could increase your risk of a heart attack if you end up divorced. A 2017 study published in the journal Cardiology Research and Practice reveals that, specifically among women, the more divorces you have, the higher your risk of severe cardiovascular disease.
Eating blackened food
Cooking your food thoroughly is essential to prevent food poisoning, but blackening it might be harming your heart health.
"Eating a diet high in inflammatory foods is a big risk factor," says Hundt. "Fatty cuts of meat that are grilled until they're charcoal increases [cardiovascular disease] risk."
Want a healthier heart? Try switching from the night shift to a 9 to 5, if possible. Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered a link between long-duration night-shift work and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Sitting all day
If you're eager to improve your heart health, there's no time like the present to spring for a treadmill desk. Researchers at the University of Leicester found that a sedentary job increased an individual's risk of having a heart attack by nearly 150 percent.
A difficult boss
Your boss may have a more deleterious effect on your health than you'd imagined. The results of a 2009 Swedish study revealed that people with uncommunicative, secretive, inconsiderate, and incompetent bosses increased their risk of having a heart attack or another severe cardiovascular event by 60 percent.
Not having regular sex
Time to cue up the Marvin Gaye and break out the good wine. It turns out, not having regular sex could be contributing to your heart attack risk. A review of research published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that having sex one time a month or less increased a person's risk of cardiovascular disease.
Not getting enough fiber
Those refined carbohydrates and steak dinners aren't doing your heart any favors. If you want to avoid a heart attack after turning 40, "eat a well-balanced, high-fiber diet," says Dr. Janette Nesheiwat.
Ignoring your omega-3 intake
Go ahead and indulge that sushi craving—it could just improve your heart health after 40. A lack of "omega-3 fatty acids (wild fatty fish or fish oil supplements)" is a major contributor to heart disease, according to Hundt.
Or your omega-6 intake
"It is important to have a healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids," says Jessica Wilhelm, CN, clinical team director of Wellnicity. "The ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 should be between 4:1 and 2:1. However, the standard American diet contains up to a 20:1 ratio, meaning we consume up to 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s."
Skimping on magnesium
"Magnesium is a mineral involved in over 300 different metabolic processes in the body that are critical for cardiac health," says Wilhelm. "Having adequate levels of magnesium is associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, but can also support healthy blood pressure because of its smooth muscle relaxing properties."
So, how do you know if you're deficient? "Anxiety, fatigue, muscle cramps, stiffness, and twitching are all signs that you're not getting enough magnesium in your diet," according to Wilhelm.
Having kids isn't just hard on your wallet and schedule—it can be hard on your heart, too. A review of data published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reveals that the more times a person gives birth, the greater their risk of a heart attack is.
Not controlling your diabetes
If you're over 40, it's time to make sure you're monitoring your blood sugar, especially if you have a family history of diabetes or risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, or a sedentary lifestyle.
"Sugars build up in the blood and increase your risk of heart disease," says Seema. Her suggestion to mitigate this risk? "Having a healthy diet, exercising regularly, eating whole food plant-based nutrition can all help to lower your blood sugar levels."
Too much caffeine
"Excessive caffeine consumption…contributes to stress in the body," which can lead to increased risk of heart disease, according to Hundt.
Getting the flu will do more than just eat up your sick days—it could contribute to your risk of potentially-fatal cardiovascular disease. According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, within the first seven days of a confirmed flu diagnosis, patients have a significantly increased risk of heart attack.
High blood pressure
If your last blood pressure reading was higher than normal, do everything in your power to get those numbers down—or you could be staring down a heart attack in the future.
"A healthy diet, reducing stress, decreasing salt intake, and exercising regularly can reduce your blood pressure," according to Seema. In turn, you'll also decrease your risk of a heart attack.
"If you smoke, quit now," says Dr. David Greuner of NYC Surgical Associates. Smoking significantly increases an individual's risk of heart disease, as well as their risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and having a stroke.
Using nicotine-based smoking cessation products
And if you're trying to quit smoking, make sure you're not using nicotine-based smoking cessation products longer than necessary. "Nicotine raises blood pressure, which is another risk factor for heart disease," says Seema.
Not spending enough time outside
A little green space can do you a world of good. A review of research published in Current Epidemiology Reports reveals that exposure to nature not only improves mental health, but it can also improve a person's cardiovascular health.
Commuting by car
If you want to reduce your risk of a heart attack, consider commuting by bike whenever possible. Research published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine proved that individuals who commuted to work by bike or foot not only had lower rates of obesity, they also reduced their risk of heart disease.
Ignoring high cholesterol levels now may mean setting yourself up for serious heart trouble in the future. According to Nesheiwat, high cholesterol is one of the biggest contributing factors to your risk of heart disease.
Skipping the gym one too many times could be a big problem for your heart down the road. "Physical inactivity is a risk factor for heart disease," says Seema. "Not only does [exercising] help with achieving a normal body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, [it] can also help with stress management."
So, how much time should you be spending at the gym? Thirty minutes of moderate activity a day, or 150 minutes a week will reduce your heart disease risk.
Exercising too intensely
However, that doesn't mean you should overdo it to the point of exhaustion or pain. Because if you do, your heart could pay the price.
"Lasting stress on the heart can lead to something called 'athletic heart syndrome,'" says Hundt. "Your heart becomes enlarged in order to keep up with the stress placed on it. It can also lead to an increase in your body's stress response (high cortisol and adrenaline) and result in irregular heartbeat."
You may have been able to get away with fried food at 20, but at 40, those greasy snacks are not making your heart happy. Even eating fried chicken just once a week increased a person's risk of heart disease by 12 percent, according to one study published in the British Medical Journal.
Breast cancer treatment
According to the American Heart Association, there's a link between the treatments for breast cancer, like chemotherapy, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, there are numerous ways to slash your risk of developing either disease, like losing weight and quitting smoking.
Taking medicines that deplete your CoQ10 levels
CoQ10 acts as an antioxidant that plays an important part in the metabolism. But, according to Wilhelm, "depletion of this heart-healthy nutrient can occur when taking blood pressure medications classified as beta blockers and statin medication to lower cholesterol."
Fortunately, supplementation and eating foods like fatty fish, oranges, strawberries, lentils, peanuts, spinach, cauliflower, and broccoli can increase your levels of this important nutrient.
Not treating your depression
Addressing your depressive symptoms is the first step toward a healthier heart. According to research published in Psychosomatic Medicine, early treatment for depression may reduce a person's risk of cardiovascular disease. So if you're feeling blue, there's no time like the present to improve your mental health.
Consuming too much saturated fat
"Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol can contribute to heart disease," says Seema.
If you want to lower your risk of a heart attack, reducing your consumption of animal products in favor of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins is a great place to start. "Eating a plant-based, whole food diet has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease in many studies," she says. "It also helps lower your cholesterol and LDL levels, which decreases your risk of heart disease, as well."
Ignoring your family history
Your family history shapes who you are, including your risk of a heart attack. According to research published in the journal Circulation, men with a family history of heart disease had about a 50 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular issues themselves. Luckily, having this information and controlling other risk factors, like diet and activity level, can help you live a longer, healthier life.
Letting your anger boil over
We all get angry from time to time, but higher anger levels mean a higher risk of heart attack. A study published in Circulation found that women with a history of anger issues were at greater risk for heart disease than their more placid counterparts.
Gaining excessive amounts of weight
There's no time like the present to lose those last 10 pounds, especially if you're at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. "Obesity is linked to heart disease, a higher LDL, triglycerides, and lower HDL, which are all risk factors for heart disease," says Seema.
From bad relationships to long hours at work, your daily stressors could be causing your risk of heart disease to soar. "Stress that goes unmanaged and lasts for extended periods results in increased cortisol levels and leads to an inflamed system," Hundt says. She adds that "long-term stress suppresses the immune system and allows disease to occur," including heart disease.
Drinking diet soda
Think opting for diet soda instead of the sugary stuff will help keep your heart healthy? Think again. Research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reveals that even among individuals without other risk factors, regular consumption of diet drinks increases your risk of heart disease.
Not drinking enough water
If you're not sipping water throughout the day, you could be setting yourself up for heart problems after 40. Researchers at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville found that even minor dehydration can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease.
Living at a low altitude
If you've got a choice between living at the beach or in the mountains, choose the latter—your heart will thank you. According to a study published in Frontiers in Physiology, lower-altitude living is associated with a greater risk of metabolic syndrome, which can contribute to heart disease.
Starting the day off right with a healthy breakfast could ultimately save your life. A review of research published in Circulation demonstrates a significant link between eating breakfast and a reduced risk of coronary disease. So make sure you're keeping that fridge stocked. And for more ways to start the day off right, discover the 30 Best Ways to Get More Energy Before Noon.
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