How many times a day do you stop to think about your heart? Are you thankful for the 72 beats per minute, 100,000 beats a day or 38 million beats each year? Or, do you only stop to think about your heart when you notice it missed a beat? For many of us, the organ with the sole job of pumping would greatly benefit from us putting a little more thought into how our actions are impacting our heart health. Here are hidden ways you may be hurting your heart health and not realize it.
Do you find yourself hitting the snooze button then racing to get out the door on time without eating breakfast? While you are catching a few more zzzs, taking that time away from preparing a healthy breakfast could increase your risk of developing heart disease, according to Harvard research. In fact, men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 percent greater risk of coronary artery disease. Researchers say the reason could be due to the fact that non-breakfast eaters are generally hungrier later in the day, eating more food at night, which could lead to metabolic changes. Not eating breakfast, researchers say, also increases the likelihood you will be obese, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol and diabetes – all increasing your chances of having a heart attack.
Have easy to prepare foods on hand to make sure you have a healthy start to the day, such as bananas, apples, avocadoes, whole grain bread, peanut butter, and cereal or granola high in fiber.
The body has a physical response to stress – fight or flight. While this response is productive in times of self-preservation (often isolated events) or a real threat, chronic stress or worry related to a perceived threat (such as an overdue bill) can cause our system to continually trigger a response. Our blood pressure rises and heart rate jumps as a result of the release of stress hormones to handle the “threat.” If we are always worrying about something, we may not realize we are putting added wear and tear on our hearts to respond to that worry. One study found high levels of worry increases the risk of coronary heart disease in older men.
Help decrease the amount you worry by asking yourself, “Is there anything I can do about this worry?” If you can, take the steps to address the problem and let go of the worry. If the cause of the worry is outside of your control, allow yourself to let go and do something positive to distract yourself like exercise, meditation or spending time with friends.
Giving up on your New Year’s Resolution
Health and nutrition goals top the list of most people’s New Year’s Resolutions – Lose Weight (#1), Stay Fit and Healthy (#5) and Quit Smoking (#7) are on the 2014 Top 10 List. If you have found the goals you wrote down in January are now a distant memory, considering looking at them again and finding a way to make small changes every day to get back on track. Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise and not smoking are among the top modifiable risk factors for heart disease. These are the things within your control to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Don’t let a goal that seems too big to achieve keep you from living a healthier life this year! Break it up into small goals. For example, start by scheduling exercise two to three days a week until that becomes a habit. Then add another day or two and keep your commitment. You will find working towards maintaining a healthy weight and stopping smoking become easier – fueled by the energy, desire and boost of endorphins you get from exercise.
Ignoring the numbers
We carry them with us every day even if we are completely unaware or choose to ignore them – blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Know your numbers and make sure they are within the normal range. If they are not, talk to your health care provider to see what changes you can make to start properly managing them. Medication therapy is available to help those who cannot control their blood pressure, cholesterol or triglycerides through diet and exercise alone. These are also top risk factors for influencing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Taking a seat
If you had to guess, how many hours a day do you sit? If you are like most Americans, it tops eight hours a day. Studies have been in the news lately showing how bad sitting is for our healthy, specifically our heart health. Some articles have even called sitting “the smoking of our generation.” Researchers have found even people who are otherwise physically active and exercise, put their heart health at risk when sitting, which leads to larger waist size, higher triglycerides and lower levels of the good cholesterol (HDL).
Take regular breaks from sitting at home or at work. If you can, stand at your desk or walk over to your co-worker’s office to talk instead of sending them an email. Take the long way to the break room or restroom. When reading a book at home or watching TV, don’t let yourself sit for more than 20 or 30 minutes before getting up and moving around.
Gathering with friends over a glass of red wine is actually good for your heart, researchers say. However, if happy hour becomes more of the norm than the occasional event, you may unknowingly be putting your heart in jeopardy. For women, drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day can increase their risk of developing heart disease. For men, that number is two drinks a day. Alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, raise triglyceride levels, increase heart failure risk and lead to weight gain. Drinking in excess can also lead to stroke.
Tossing and Turning
When was the last time you can say you had a really good night’s rest? If it has been a while, it is more than just inconvenient and a burden to stay awake during the day. Sleep apnea, one of the most commonly diagnosed sleep disturbances is linked with risk factors of heart disease including high blood pressure, heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Sleep apnea can also lead to stroke. The good news is that sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated to reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. Talk with your health care provider about your quality of sleep to determine if a sleep study should be recommended.
Keeping it all in
Do you try to stay cool, calm and collected even when something is really bothering you? Researchers in Germany have found “repressors”, who keep their anger, fear or anxiety to themselves, have higher heart rates and pulse rates than “non-repressors.” They believe continuing to repress emotions causes the constant release of stress hormones, similar to the problem of worrying all the time, which raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. Something as simple as walking once a day can help reduce blood pressure and calm your body’s response to the bottled-up emotions.