More people die from heart disease than any other cause. In North America, one out of every five deaths is due to heart disease. You know the top five risk factors of heart disease include obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, poor diet, and drinking excessive alcohol, but these aren’t the only lifestyle habits that damage your most important muscle.
The following habits may seem insignificant, but over time they add up to have a big impact. Remember, while your ticker’s still ticking it’s never too late to take steps to improve its health.
You don’t floss – you have a dentist appointment in a few days so you decide to floss like mad. Sound familiar? By not acting on your dentist’s advice to floss regularly, you’re not only hurting your teeth and gums, but you may be putting your heart at risk as well. It sounds crazy, but inflamed gums allow the bacteria in your mouth (and there are a lot) to enter your blood stream, where they find their way to your coronary arteries and take up residence. Over time, this narrows the passage of blood, increases blood pressure, and strains your heart.
Lesson learned: floss once a day.
You’re angry or stressed – find yourself frequently experiencing road rage, constantly yelling at your kids, or under pressure at work? Anger, unmanaged stress, and anxiety take a toll on your heart and put you at risk for heart disease by increasing your blood pressure, interfering with the heart’s electrical impulses that regulate heart beat, and causing fat to build up in your arteries.
Lesson learned: practice healthy methods of stress and anger management.
You get too much or too little sleep – interestingly enough, the various stages of sleep are good for your heart. Working non-stop to keep you alive, your heart needs a little down time — more specifically seven to nine hours of down time every day. Both too much or too little sleep increases blood pressure and the amount of stress hormones circulating in your blood. Studies show a woman’s risk of heart disease increases by 45% when she gets less than five hours of sleep each night on a regular basis and women who regularly sleep more than nine hours a night have a 38% increased risk.
Lesson learned: get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
You sit most of the day – your morning jog may not be enough to offset the dangers of heart disease if you spend the rest of your day sitting. Working at the computer from nine to five, driving in your car to and from work, and watching television all evening set you up for heart problems. While daily exercise helps, it’s not enough to reverse the damage of a sedentary lifestyle. Your heart is a muscle that requires frequent exercise to keep it strong and healthy.
Lesson learned: in addition to your daily workout, make sure you’re active for at least five minutes every hour.
You’re lonely – did you know people who live alone are more likely to die from heart disease? Your body produces less stress hormones when someone’s by your side through the good and the bad, but a weak support system, feelings of isolation, depression, and relationship problems are all associated with heart disease because they’re all causes of stress, inflammation, and damage to blood vessels.
Lesson learned: reach out to those around you who may be lonely.
“Think about it: heart disease and diabetes, which account for more deaths in the U.S. and worldwide, are completely preventable by making comprehensive lifestyle changes. Without drugs or surgery.” – Dean Ornish
Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and the owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.