Your heart is like your body’s engine, pumping and circulating lifeblood throughout your body so each organ functions properly. As such, the health of every other organ in your body depends on your heart health. While we often hear about bad habits we should avoid, we don’t always hear about why such practices are “bad.” Often, those habits are “bad” because they’re detrimental to your heart health.
Keep reading to learn more about bad habits for heart health and tips to break them.
Top Unhealthy Heart Habits
Many habits have adverse effects on your heart health. You may already know of some, but you may be surprised to hear of others. With that said, here are eight terrible habits for the heart:
Smoking is one of the most unhealthy heart habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking causes approximately one out of four cardiovascular deaths. Chemicals in tobacco smoke thicken the blood and inflame blood vessels, constricting them and reducing blood flow.
Some heart conditions that smoking can lead to include:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm: The aorta is the vessel that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body. An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when aortic walls weaken and bulges form in the part of the aorta located in the abdomen. Smoking weakens aortic walls, increasing your risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm — a potentially life-threatening condition.
- Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis occurs when arteries narrow and lose flexibility. This narrowing and flexibility loss usually occurs when plaque builds up inside arteries, which smoking increases. Atherosclerosis elevates your heart attack risk.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD): Plaque buildup in arteries that supply blood to the heart causes CAD, constricting blood flow to and from the heart. Smoking contributes to this plaque buildup.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD): Plaque buildup in your peripheral arteries — those that receive rather than supply blood to the heart — causes PAD.
- Stroke: A stroke occurs when your brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen-rich blood. Since smoking can decrease blood flow, it can cause a stroke after extended use.
2. Alcohol Use
Long-term and excessive alcohol consumption has direct links to various heart conditions, including CAD, PAD, stroke and the following:
- Atrial fibrillation, characterized by quivering upper heart chambers and irregular heartbeats
- Cardiomyopathy, a damaged heart muscle that weakens your heart’s blood-pumping ability
- Hypertension, or high blood pressure
Prolonged alcohol consumption weakens your heart muscle, which increases atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy risks. The weakened circulation can cause a stroke if blood pools and clots in your heart atriums and lodges in the brain. Alcohol also raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood, increasing CAD, PAD or heart attack risks.
3. Poor Diet
Food has a large impact on heart health. It has the power to both strengthen and weaken, depending on nutritional value. For example, leafy green vegetables like kale or spinach and other whole foods have tremendous heart benefits. In contrast, processed foods like microwave meals or anything with refined sugar are detrimental to heart health, especially when consumed in large quantities.
Besides whole and processed foods, healthy fats and unhealthy fats also impact heart health. Healthy fats include unsaturated fats and omega 3-6-9 fatty acids, while saturated and trans fats are harmful to your heart.
Saturated and trans fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, or “bad” cholesterol, and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, “good” cholesterol. Comparatively, omega 3-6-9 fatty acids support healthy cardiovascular function.
Trans fats are especially bad for your heart, as your body cannot process them. Since they’re used as food preservatives, processed foods are high in trans fats.
As much as we’d like to achieve a state of total peace, we all experience stress. Some stress is normal, but severe and chronic stress can negatively impact heart health in several ways. Severe stress affects heart health by hindering our ability to make healthy choices.
It’s easy to fall back on unhealthy coping mechanisms when you feel stressed. Those coping mechanisms could be poor diet choices, smoking, alcohol use, avoiding physical activity or other habits that are bad for your heart.
Beyond decreasing motivation, stress also impacts your body. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol — a hormone that increases blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides. In this way, stress can impair cardiovascular function to varying extents.
5. Little Physical Activity
The CDC notes that insufficient exercise can lead to heart disease, even with no other risk factors. Our bodies are made to move, and the heart functions better with frequent exercise. Thus, our bodies suffer when we don’t exercise enough. We experience inferior circulation and risk becoming overweight, which is linked to heart disease and several cardiovascular conditions.
6. Avoiding Physicals and Checkups
Heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions can creep up if you’re unaware of the warning signs. Moreover, doctors can identify those warning signs much easier than the average person. They check vitals and have an intimate knowledge of where each person’s vital should be.
At checkups, doctors assess blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels and resting heart rate. Each of these vitals provides invaluable information about your heart health. If you avoid physicals and checkups, you’re letting that information go unchecked. That information could prevent the progression or development of severe cardiovascular conditions. Your doctor can also show you healthy habits to optimize your heart health.
7. High Salt Intake
Excessive sodium consumption worsens high blood pressure, which increases heart failure risk and exacerbates existing heart disease. The issue with excessive sodium intake is more with processed foods than adding some extra salt to flavor a meal.
While you should limit your sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day, the saltshaker accounts for a small percentage of your daily sodium intake. In contrast, most processed foods rely heavily on sodium as a preservative. These foods include lunch meats, potato chips, frozen pizzas and various salty snacks.
8. Inadequate Sleep
Poor sleep also impairs heart function. The CDC links insomnia with high blood pressure and heart disease. Your blood pressure lowers as you sleep. Thus, if you have insomnia or unhealthy sleep habits, your blood pressure remains high for longer periods than it should. High blood pressure makes your heart work harder, increasing your heart disease risk.
Tips to Break These Habits
Here are some tips to help you overcome bad habits for heart health:
- Avoid smoking: Whether you smoke often, sometimes or never, it’s important to avoid smoking or reduce the amount you smoke. If you’d like to quit but are having trouble doing so, the CDC has several resources to help you overcome smoking.
- Limit alcohol consumption: While some studies suggest moderate alcohol consumption may have cardioprotective benefits, it’s best to play it safe with alcohol and the heart. Limit your alcohol consumption to less than two drinks per day.
- Increase physical activity: Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week and resistance exercise two days a week.
- Prioritize a healthy diet: Pay attention to the ingredients in your food and choose whole foods and healthy fats over pre-packaged snacks stuffed with preservatives and unhealthy fats.
- Practice healthy stress reduction: Find ways to reduce stress with healthy coping mechanisms. Mindful meditation or yoga help many, but if you find another practice works better for you, incorporate it into your routine.
Prioritize Heart Health With Modern Heart and Vascular
One of the most important things you can do to prioritize heart health is regularly contacting a heart-smart doctor. Our board-certified cardiologists at Modern Heart and Vascular are experts in heart health and would be more than happy to help you overcome bad habits for heart health.
Contact us to learn more about how you can prioritize heart health!