Your heart is the hardest-working muscle in your body. The size of your fist, it sits in your chest and beats 100,000 times each day, driving five quarters of blood through its chambers each minute.
By the time you are 70, your heart will have beat about 2.5 billion times.
Unfortunately, just because it gets lots of exercise doesn’t mean it’s in great shape. In fact, heart disease and related cardio issues such as stroke, cause more deaths in the United States than all cancers combined.
There’s a lot you can do to hurt your heart.
Here are some of the worst things you can do to your heart, and what you can do instead.
Sitting for hours each day can shave years off your life. If you watch too much TV or work at a desk, you run a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. And exercise doesn’t offset it. Get up for a few minutes every two hours at a minimum.
2. Let bad moods linger
Chronic anger and unchecked depression are devastating to your heart. If you often find yourself moody, angry, irritable, down, depressed or out of sorts, see your doctor and talk about ways to achieve better mental health. You’ll also get better physical health.
Some snoring is normal. But if you snore a lot, you could have a kind of sleep apnea that can drive your blood pressure way up. That increases your chance of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about your options for treating apnea.
4. Forgo flossing.
Science doesn’t know why, but people who don’t floss have a higher risk of heart disease. The problem could be caused by inflammation in the body, exacerbated by the bacterial buildup on the teeth and gums. Practice good dental hygiene.
5. Drink too much
A glass of wine a day is shown to be excellent for heart health, but too much more than that and the heart takes a hit. Excessive alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure, bring up blood fats, and drive weight gain, which comes with it’s own set of heart stressors. Men should hold it to two drinks a day, women, one.
6. Eat too much
Excess body fat is a major risk factor in heart disease, and the majority of Americans are overweight for obese. Losing weight is the subject of many, many books, but for a no-nonsense approach to healthy eating, see local trainer and author Rebecca Clark’s eBook “The Checklist Diet,” a brief, concise set of 10 dietary habits.
7. Eat red meat
An occasional piece of red meat is not going to harm you, but regular consumption of it, especially highly-processed forms such as bacon, lead not only to a higher risk of heart disease, but certain cancers as well. Keep red meat to 10 percent of your diet at the most.
8. Ignore your heart
You should know your numbers. What’s your blood pressure? Your blood sugar? Your cholesterol? If you don’t know, find out, and keep track. Ninety percent of the population is going to have hypertension at some point. That means you most likely will, too. The more you know, the more you can act to reverse problems.
You know this. But it bears repeating; smoking can lead to significant plaque buildup in your heart and your arteries. And living with a smoker can be deadly, too. If you smoke, quit. If you live with a smoker, do not let that smoker smoke inside.
10. Eating the wrong things
So you don’t eat red meat and your body fat levels are within healthy range. You’re not out of the woods yet. You still need to eat fruits and vegetables. Five servings or more a day and you cut your risk of heart attack by 20 percent.
11. Ignore signs
If you get out of breath when you didn’t used to, it might not just be that you’re out of shape. If you heart is losing muscle, you need to get on top of it before it becomes permanent. Talk to your doctor even if you think there’s probably nothing to worry about it.
12. Eat too much salt
Salt drives blood pressure up. Keep salt to about 2,300 milligrams a day at most. If its hard to count milligrams, just don’t eat chips and other salty foods; canned and instant soups are huge offenders, as are TV dinners and most prepackaged foods. Cook at home out of fresh ingredients.
It’s not easy making lifestyle changes. But there is help. Providence and Valley General hospitals both offer heart health education classes periodically, and the Monroe YMCA has heart health exercise and health education and options as well.