7 Heart Health Mistakes Even Smart People Make
You may think you know how to protect your heart—heed your family history, avoid saturated fats and keep your cholesterol low, to name a few—but you could still unwittingly cause trouble for your ticker. Here are seven surprising things that can raise your risk for a heart attack or stroke, and how to fix them.
- Skipping your regular blood pressure check. High blood pressure—defined as 130/80 mm Hg and up—is a top risk factor for heart attack and stroke. But many of the 103 million U.S. adults who have it don’t know it, and your risk increases with age. “It has traditionally been called the ‘silent killer’ because it does not often have any clinically known symptoms,” says Carl Horton, MD, a cardiologist with the Texas Health Physicians Group in Dallas-Fort Worth. Even if you’re healthy, make sure your doc checks your BP at least once every two years (which shouldn’t be a problem if you’re getting your annual physical—hint, hint).
- Expecting your statin to do all the work. Sorry, but those cholesterol-lowering meds aren’t a free pass to load up on bacon cheeseburgers. In order for your statin to do its job, you still need to eat a heart-healthy diet centered around fruits and veggies, nuts, beans and fish, Horton says. If you don’t, your cholesterol won’t go down—and may even continue to rise.
- Not getting enough sleep. People who snooze for fewer than six hours per night have a 23 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to those who get seven to nine hours, according to findings published in the journal SLEEP. “Sleep deprivation sets off a cascade of hormones, which are pro-inflammatory and increase the risk of high blood pressure and obesity,” Horton says. It can also slow your metabolism and zap your motivation to eat right and exercise, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight.
- Sitting for 9+ hours a day. If you’re already getting the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise, give yourself a pat on the back. Then think about how you can move even more. Too much sedentary time ups the risk for heart disease and early death—even among regular exercisers, according to research from the American Heart Association. Opt for active hobbies like gardening, and find ways to sneak in extra steps, like taking an extra lap around the supermarket before checking out.
- Ignoring stress. Unchecked tension can take a serious toll on your ticker. Stress not only raises your heart rate and blood pressure, but over time, it can damage the walls of your arteries. “In general, I tell people to take 30 minutes a day to do something mindful. It could be yoga, meditation or prayer—whatever it takes to cast off the stresses that accumulate,” says Andrew M. Freeman, MD, cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver.
- Yo-yo dieting. Shedding excess pounds is great for your heart, but only if you keep them off. AHA research suggests that losing and regaining weight can increase the risk for sudden cardiac death and coronary heart disease—especially in older women. Why? Yo-yo dieting likely means that you aren’t making the long-term changes needed to improve your heart health, like eating right and exercising regularly, Freeman says. It’s possible that losing and regaining weight also puts more stress on your heart. If you’re struggling, talk to your doctor, who can suggest tools or tweaks that make it easier to keep extra pounds off for good.
- Drinking diet soda. Zero calories doesn’t necessarily make it a healthier choice than regular soda. Increasing evidence is showing that diet soda consumption is also tied to a higher risk for stroke. “Added sugar seems to be as bad for the heart as saturated fat,” Freeman explains. “And diet soda is filled with chemicals that trick the body into producing the same insulin that’s associated with eating sweets.” Skip the soft drinks altogether and stick with sparkling water, unsweetened tea or coffee.
Story Credit: https://parade.com/630797/mtaylor-2/7-heart-health-mistakes-even-smart-people-make/