25 Surprising Ways You’re Hurting Your Heart

By Kathleen Baker

Most people know that eating healthily, getting exercise, and not smoking are excellent ways to help prevent heart disease but many may not be aware of the smaller ways they may be doing damage to their hearts every day. The following list contains 25 things that can potentially do damage to your heart, helping you stay educated, aware and ulimately keeping your heart in better shape so you can live a long and healthy life.

  1. Sitting in traffic. A German study reports that sitting in traffic can contribute to heart attacks, especially if you are already at risk for heart problems. No matter if you are driving, riding public transportation, or pedaling your bike, if you sit in traffic, your chances of having a heart attack within the one hour after your commute raises your risk by three times the rate of those not sitting in traffic.
  2. Staying in a bad marriage. Especially for women, staying in a bad marriage has shown to increase risks for heart disease. Getting a divorce also increases risks, so professionals recommend finding a good quality counselor who can teach communication skills as well as ways to manage stress and depression.
  3. Living near a lot of road traffic noise. A study in Stockholm examined heart attack patients and where they lived, attributing for other factors such as increased risk of pollution or reduced risk due to hearing impairment. The study showed that patients living in residential areas with noise above 50 decibels were 40% more likely to have a heart attack.
  4. Not taking care of your teeth. Bacteria can enter your bloodstream from your gums, then damage the blood vessels and heart. Regular brushing, flossing, and visits to your dentist can help prevent cardiac problems, such as heart attacks, before they start.
  5. Living alone. Danish researchers found that both men and women living alone suffered twice the number of heart problems as those who were living with partners or roommates. Of the 5% of women living alone, they contributed to one-third of the female deaths due to acute coronary syndrome. Among the men, 8% were living alone and contributed to two-thirds of the male deaths.
  6. Getting too little or too much sleep. Whether because of insomnia or sleep apnea, if you are spending restless nights of little sleep, then you are potentially hurting your heart. Research indicates that getting less than six hours of quality sleep a night, or even getting too much sleep, increases your risk of coronary artery disease.
  7. Being grumpy. While grumpy old men may make for humorous movies, the reality is that negativity, especially in men, can lead to an increase in coronary heart disease. A researcher at Duke University who helped work on the study recommends that men work on dealing with anger, hostility, depression, and anxiety to help prevent health concerns.
  8. Depression. Studies show that depression can increase the risk of heart failure for patients without heart disease as well as for patients with a blockage of coronary arteries. Depression has already been shown to affect the immune system, so it is wise to seek professional help if you experience depression.
  9. Not worrying about "normal" blood pressure. Dr. Arthur Agatston instructs patients who are in the high-normal blood pressure range and have other heart risks that they must still work to get their blood pressure lower. People with risks such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or being overweight can’t rest comfortably with blood pressure that may be near the high-normal range as they could still be at risk of a heart attack.
  10. Not knowing the facts. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. If you don’t know the lifestyle and genetic contributors to diseases that can lead to heart problems, you open yourself up for trouble. Learn about heart attack risks, high cholesterol, and diabetes to better understand how to prevent problems in the future.
  11. Using artificial sweeteners. Eating something sweet sends a signal to your body to get ready to burn calories and also helps trigger feelings of fullness. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to reduce these natural triggers, thereby allowing your body to both create more fat and overeat. If you are using artificial sweeteners to lose weight for the health of your heart, then perhaps you should switch to a natural sweetener such as honey, unprocessed or less processed sugar, or agave sweetener.
  12. Using pain relievers. Vioxx was in all the news several years ago when it was discovered that it may have contributed to heart attacks and strokes. Other pain relievers may pose risks to your heart as well. Many question the safety of Celebrex, available by prescription only, and research has shown that acetaminophen usage in women, especially if used more than 21 days a month or in smokers, carry increased risks for the heart.
  13. Relying on a supposed heart-healthy diet that isn’t. With so many claims of heart-healthy diets, it can be easy to fall victim to false advertising. According to a study that examined over 50 years of research, the only diets shown conclusively to reduce the risk for heart disease are those that are vegetable-rich, include nuts rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, and Mediterranean-style diets. Western diets with processed meats, refined grains and high-fat dairy as well as high-glycemic index foods and foods high in trans-fatty acids actually promote heart disease.
  14. Shoveling snow. People with a history of heart disease or risk factors for it should not shovel snow. The heavy work in a cold environment can put too much stress on the heart, especially if you are not accustomed to getting much exercise.
  15. Taking extremely hot or cold showers or saunas after exercising. The extreme temperature change after working out can put too much stress on your heart. If you are already at risk for a heart attack, this practice is downright unsafe.
  16. Not speaking up when talking with your doctor. Many people don’t tell their doctor everything they should when they come in for a visit. The reasons can vary from being embarrassed to not feeling comfortable with the doctor to just not knowing something was important. Be sure to give your doctor the full picture so he or she will be able to help you keep your heart healthy. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, then maybe it’s time to find a new physician.
  17. Living with chronic anxiety. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that for those at risk for heart problems, the chances of heart attack and death increase significantly if they are living with chronic anxiety. Learn how to manage the stress in your life and seek professional help if you find you can’t reduce your stress and anxiety alone.
  18. Too many calcium supplements. It is not uncommon for post-menopausal women to take calcium supplements to help prevent against brittle bones. However, research published in the British Medical Journal shows that women taking higher levels of calcium supplements experienced greater heart problems.
  19. Feeling discrimination. Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has shown that black women who reported more feelings of being discriminated against had higher incidents of coronary artery calcification. With the many types of discrimination so widely prevalent in society, including ageism, sexism, homophobia, and racial discrimination, this study should give people reason to reconsider their relationships.
  20. Drinking soft drinks. Boston University School of Medicine released a report based on their research that indicates one soda a day, diet or regular, can contribute to many health problems which contribute to heart disease. Medical professionals recommend reducing soda intake and keeping in mind that moderation is often the best way to go.
  21. Drinking energy drinks. Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and other natural stimulants that can raise blood pressure and heart rate. Even in healthy young people, two energy drinks a day have shown to raise blood pressure and heart rate by 10%. If you are at risk for heart problems, then you should avoid drinking energy drinks.
  22. Having a bad boss. A study done by Swedish researchers discovered that those working for four or more years under bosses that are "inconsiderate, opaque, uncommunicative, and poor advocates" have a 60% higher risk of heart attack or other heart condition. By contrast, those who work under bosses that demonstrate positive management styles are 40% less likely to experience heart problems.
  23. Having a low thyroid. Some researchers have discovered that having a low thyroid, but not low enough to qualify for the conventional diagnosis of hypothyroidism, can tax the body enough to put you at risk for coronary artery disease. This disorder can affect men and women, but is more common in women, especially as they age.
  24. Breathing in particulate matter. Just about everyone has heard that smoking is bad for your heart, but now research indicates that breathing polluted air full of particulate matter is not only bad for your lungs, but your heart as well. Experts recommend staying indoors when pollution is high and avoiding exercising in areas of high traffic.
  25. Lifting heavy weights. While weight lifting is definitely a healthy exercise as well as a popular one, but research has shown that lifting heavy weights raises blood pressure and can result in a serious risk for a torn aorta. Before you start a weight training program, visit your doctor to discover if you may be at risk. If you already participate in a weight training program, learn how to reduce your risk while still enjoying your activities.


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