10 Bad Heart Habits to Break

Heart disease may be the leading cause of death in the U.S. but it can be prevented. Learn the 10 worst habits of the heart and how to break them!

A toy heart with a stethoscope around it

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. In fact, it is estimated one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease in the United States!

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, describes a range of conditions that affect the heart. Signs of heart disease vary on the type and can differ between men and women.

Despite the varying types and signs of heart disease, it is important for everyone to know what can be done. Many daily things can be considered habits of the heart, and Harvard Health suggests these bad heart habits work alone and compound together to alter metabolism and change how the body functions.  

The good news is shifting to heart-healthy habits can help lower the risk for heart disease. And we are here to share the worst habits of the heart and how to break them!

10 Bad Heart Habits to Break

If these 10 bad heart habits sound familiar, find ways to make practical, daily changes to improve heart health.

Changing even one of these bad heart habit can have a positive effect on heart health:

1. Smoking
2. Low Physical Activity
3. Not Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables
4. Drinking Too Much Alcohol
5. Carrying Extra Weight
6. Long Periods of Sitting During the Day
7. Carrying Negative Emotions Inside
8. Not Brushing and Flossing As Recommended
9. Eating Too Much Sugar
10. Not Knowing Your Numbers

1. Smoking

Smoking is damaging to every organ in the body including the heart. Smoking is considered a major risk factor for increasing heart disease because of chemicals in tobacco smoke that cause damage to blood vessels and the heart.

Even light or occasional smoking can still be considered a bad heart habit as any amount of smoking can cause damage to your heart and blood vessels. Being around second-hand smoke can increase the risk for heart damage as the smoke contains most of the same harmful chemicals.

2. Low Physical Activity

Exercise offers many health benefits including strengthening the heart muscle, aiding in weight regulation, providing positive effects on blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, bicycling, or swimming can improve blood pressure and heart rate.

Resistance, or strengthening, exercise includes weight lifting, push-ups, sit-ups, and other exercises that focus on increasing muscle strength. A combination of aerobic and resistance exercise can positively impact blood cholesterol.

Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week and resistance exercise two non-consecutive days a week. However, adding any amount of movement to the day can be beneficial. 

Before starting an exercise plan, though, consult with a doctor for individual recommendation. This especially serves true if managing an underlying health condition such as diabetes. 

3. Not Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables have many heart health components. They are high in fiber, naturally low in fat, cholesterol and provide many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. 

Despite knowing their importance, only 10 percent of adults get the recommended amount of 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. Reach the daily recommended amount by filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables at meals.

However, keep in mind you can gradually add in more fruits and vegetables anywhere throughout the day. Like exercise, adding in any level of fruits and vegetables can be helpful. 

4. Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Alcohol’s impact on heart health is dose-dependent. Alcohol in moderation (or not at all) is considered safe for most people. 

However, drinking more than the moderate guideline of up to 1 to 2 drinks per day for men and up to one drink per day for women can have a negative impact on heart health. Drinking past the moderate guideline can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart arrhythmia. 

A Harvard Health study of 4,900 men and women found those who had drank more than 21 alcoholic drinks a week for men or 14 for women had an 85 percent increased risk of dying compared to those who did not have these habits. This was in addition to smoking, low physical activity, and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. 

5. Carrying Extra Weight

Carrying extra weight, especially around the midsection, can increase the risk for heart disease. Obesity and overweight are associated with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome. 

Losing just a small amount of weight can still provide heart benefits. Altering habits like those mentioned here for changing bad heart habits can help lose weight in a healthy way.

6. Long Periods of Sitting During the Day

Whether for work, commuting or during free time, most people are sitting too much during the day. Not only is too little exercise a risk factor for heart disease, but prolonged sitting is also considered an independent risk factor for heart disease.

Instead of spending hours sitting in a chair, car  or the couch, break up the periods of sitting by standing up, stretching, walking around or doing other simple movements. Getting up for just a few minutes every hour can be helpful to shift the harmful effects of sitting. 

7. Carrying Negative Emotions Inside

Emotions and thoughts, through the mind-body connection, can impact physical health. Negative emotions like depression, anxiety, loneliness, anger, or stress may increase risk for heart disease over time especially if there isn’t a way to release these emotions.

Everyone at times has negative emotions, but having them constantly over time is what can be harmful for heart health. Ways to lower negative emotions can include:

  • Exercising and other healthy stress relief techniques
  • Having people available to talk to
  • Taking deep breaths
  • Journaling
  • Spending time with those that are important

Also discuss this topic with a doctor to see if there are further resources that may help.

8. Not Brushing and Flossing As Recommended

Brushing and flossing are well-known to be important for the health of teeth. But according to American Heart Association News, brushing teeth for two minutes twice a day may lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Gum disease, which can be prevented by brushing and flossing teeth, is inflammation and possible infection of the gums. This increase in inflammation may be one reason why gum disease is linked to heart disease risk. 

If someone is not in the habit of brushing and flossing twice a day, starting this habit will not only benefit the teeth and gums but also heart health. 

9. Eating Too Much Sugar

It seems added sugar is in almost everything at the grocery store: sweets, soda, sauces, condiments, frozen pizza, bread and soups. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women. 

However, most Americans get 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day according to Harvard Health. Not only could too much added sugar increase risk for weight gain or type 2 diabetes, but it also can increase risk of heart disease.

Simple way to cut back on added sugar include:

  • Stop drinking liquid calories, including soft drinks and other sugary beverages.
  • Focus on cutting back on foods that have sugar in the ingredient label or on the nutrition facts. 
  • Eat more unprocessed foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, and lean proteins.

10. Not Knowing Your Numbers

A Cleveland Clinic survey found 68 percent of Americans may be concerned about heart disease, yet they do not know their heart numbers. Knowing blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference, and blood sugar are good starting points for assessing heart health. 

Tracking these numbers over the years to see if they are going up or down is important for knowing if risk for heart health is improving or worsening. 

Make checking these heart numbers a part of a yearly habit for health. Also consult with a doctor regarding how often these parameters should be monitored.

Reference:

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults.

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