You’ve probably heard (most likely from us!) that a healthy diet, regular exercise and a good handle on stress is the best prescription for a healthy heart. But we’ll bet you haven’t heard these tips about heart health. Here, 10 surprising do’s and don’ts for keeping your heart healthy.
Do Get Plastic Smart
Bisphenol-A (BPA), a common plastic additive that has been suspected of contributing to hormonal disruptions and neural development issues in children, has now been linked to heart disease. Recent studies have begun to look at the health effects of BPA in adults — in 2009, researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom found that adults with high levels of BPA in their urine had a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease and suffering from impaired liver function. Despite these dangers, more than 90 percent of the American population has detectable levels of BPA in their bloodstreams. To minimize your exposure, avoid plastic water bottles, discard any plastic containers that have scratches, and don’t microwave or place hot liquids or food in plastic containers. Because BPA is also found in the lining of cans, consider cooking with dried beans and frozen vegetables instead of their canned counterparts.
Do Get Up From Your Desk
Most of us lead a very sedentary lifestyle. Even if we work out regularly, all this downtime takes a toll on our health. Turns out, people who sit on their duff all day without taking breaks are at greater risk of a slew of health issues than those who get up and walk around regularly. Sitting for prolonged periods of time is linked to larger waistlines, higher blood pressure, lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, increased levels of triglycerides, and higher levels of inflammation. And that even goes for gym rats. According to the study’s researchers, 30 to 60 minutes of activity a day can’t undo the effects of sitting for eight to 12 hours at a time. But standing up and walking around periodically throughout the day can help. They recommend standing during phone calls and meetings, walking over to a person’s desk instead of e-mailing them and making frequent visits to the watercooler and bathroom.
Do Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Too polite to ask someone to stop smoking? You won’t be after you learn this: According to a study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, being exposed to 15 to 30 minutes of secondhand smoke a week increases the risk of stroke by 56 percent and peripheral artery disease by 67 percent over the course of two years. Another study found that one-third of nonsmokers with a high exposure to secondhand smoke had early signs of lung damage, representing very mild forms of emphysema.
Do Drink Beer
You’ve probably heard that drinking red wine in moderation can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. (Moderation is no more than one serving of alcohol per day for women and two for men.) Beer has these same beneficial effects. According to research, the antioxidants in beer significantly improve the capacity for an artery to dilate, which just could have a positive impact on cardiovascular and heart health. Beer, along with tea, coffee and cocoa, provides antioxidants (specifically phenolic compounds) that reduce damaging free radicals in the body. One great benefit? Beer and other spirits can help raise HDL (healthy cholesterol) levels. But beer (much like red wine) can also prevent LDL (lousy cholesterol) levels from becoming even worse.
Do Have More Sex
You can boost your health without even getting out of bed — by having more sex! Studies show frequent sex promotes longer life and fewer heart attacks. Not only does a good roll in the hay reduce stress, studies also show that people who have sex frequently (generally twice a week, although individual studies vary) live longer, have lower blood pressure and are less likely to suffer heart attacks. So grab your main squeeze and get busy tonight.
Do Watch Your Mouth
Several studies have linked gum disease to heart disease. While the connection is not totally understood, preliminary research suggests the more bacteria crowding your mouth, the higher your chances of developing heart disease. The thinking is that because people with gum disease have higher amounts of harmful bacteria in their mouth that adhere to the gingival lining (pockets just inside the gums), the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause inflammation in arteries that results in arterial disease. A new study that analyzed the oral hygiene habits of 11,000 people found that people who didn’t brush their teeth regularly had a 70 percent greater risk of heart disease than people who brushed twice a day. And that was after accounting for other risk factors like smoking, obesity and family history. Reduce bacteria’s head count by brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, and using ADA-approved antimicrobial mouthwash with fluoride.
Don’t Be a Pessimist
A study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found that optimistic women had lower rates of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes and death than pessimistic women. Researchers aren’t sure whether a positive outlook motivates us to take better care of ourselves or if it has direct health benefits. Either way, being upbeat has upsides for your health. If you tend to see the glass as half empty, try this: Once a week for a month or more, list three things you’re grateful for and spend time contemplating what makes them possible, suggests Thomas Morledge, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Thankful for your health? Think about what keeps you healthy. Thankful for a strong relationship? Think about how you manage that. Evidence suggests that this simple act to cultivate gratitude can be a powerful antidote for anxiety and depression.
Don’t Overdo Sweets
The added sugars (glucose, sucrose, fructose) in soft drinks, candy, cookies and muffins can cause a low grade of inflammation in your body, which can affect your blood vessels. Research over the past decade has pointed toward inflammation as being the trigger that causes most forms of coronary heart disease. Americans consume an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day; the American Heart Association recommends a maximum of six teaspoons for women and nine for men. Drink club soda instead of a 12-ounce cola and you eliminate eight teaspoons right there. (And a bonus: You get a big sodium savings!)
Don’t Be a Couch Potato
Every hour spent watching TV is associated with an 18 percent increase in death from heart disease! That’s no joke. According to a study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, the more time you spend in front of the TV, the higher your risk of dying from heart disease. The real shocker? Whether you’re overweight or not doesn’t matter. Sitting for long periods of time can have a negative impact on blood sugar and lipids. Exercise, on the other hand, has an antiaging effect, all the way down to the cellular level. If you can’t seem to part with your favorite shows, find a fitness routine you can do while watching or during commercials.
Don’t Be Mean
Got a mean streak? Time to learn how to play nice. People who are overly aggressive or competitive may be at greater risk of heart attacks or strokes, according to a study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association. As we age, the lining of our arterial walls starts to thicken, which has correlated with a greater risk of heart disease. The more antagonistic a person is, the thicker their arteries tend to be — even at a young age. If you blow your fuse often, consider a course in anger management. Losing weight, quitting smoking and engaging in regular physical activity can be beneficial and decrease the rate of arterial thickening. Physical exercise is also great for stress reduction.