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February 14, 2022 Heart Health

Breaking Bad Habits for a Healthy Heart

Biting your nails, cracking your knuckles, and twirling your hair excessively are some bad habits that, while annoying to some, are mostly harmless. But there are some habits out there that can actually have negative effects on your body — namely your heart. 

“Some common habits that are detrimental to the health of the heart include cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol beyond that of moderation, drinking soda, irregular sleep cycle, poor sleep hygiene, poor diet (e.g., snacking, excess salt and sugar consumption), and lack of exercise,” said Dr. Dong Bo Yu, Non-Invasive Cardiologist at ThedaCare

And while it’s easy to think doing something once will have a bad effect, it’s a bit more complicated than that according to him: 

“We tend to think of the effects of these bad habits as long-term and accumulative. That being said, some effects may be immediate; for example, arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation may be provoked or recur following just one or a few consecutive nights of poor sleep or one bout of binge drinking.” 

Luckily, with the new year comes resolutions to break bad habits like these. So if you haven’t found any resolutions to start just yet — or you need some extra motivation — be sure to read how you can tackle some of these nasty habits. 

Drinking Too Much 

A glass of beer may feel nice for some — especially after a long day. You may want to be careful, however; too much can be a bad thing for your heart. But how much is too much? 

“The answer is complex, as both the quantity and regularity of drink need to be factored in,” answered Dr. Yu.  “While a couple of drinks at any given night are probably OK, one needs to be concerned if drinking becomes a routine or habit, and if one finds his/her judgment and behavior to be affected because of drinking.” 

If you find yourself thinking it may be time to cut down on your alcohol consumption, a good place to start is by setting a goal of how many drinks you want to go down to. After all, it’s hard to cut back if you don’t have a specific idea in mind. From there you can slowly taper down the amount of drinks you have. Maybe one week you want to go from five drinks a day to three. Then two drinks a day. Slowly but surely you may find yourself down to drinking only once a week! 

And if that doesn’t work, Dr. Yu has one other suggestion: 

“Controlling what you buy and store may also help you keep tab.” 

Poor Dental Hygiene 

You probably knew that poor dental hygiene is bad for your teeth, but it might be a surprise that it could harm your heart too.  

“Certain patients with pre-existing heart conditions such as history of congenital heart disease, heart valve replacement, or heart transplant, need to pay extra attention to things such as dental hygiene to avoid bacterial infections in the heart called endocarditis” explained Dr. Yu. 

That’s why it’s important to make sure you brush your teeth twice a day and don’t skip flossing. For an extra layer of hygiene, you can also add mouthwash into your routine to ensure your gums stay healthy too.  

Even with these routines, it’s also important to see your dentist twice a year to check on your dental hygiene, give your teeth an annual cleanup, and fix any cavities before they get out of hand. 

Smoking 

If you’re one of the estimated 34.1 million Americans smoking cigarettes, you’re probably familiar with how easy it is to get addicted and have already heard about the risks you take with your heart when smoking. 

“Smoking has long been known to dramatically increase the odds of heart attack and strokes, not to mention the risks outside of the heart such as causing cancer,” said Dr. Yu.  

And if you know how easy it is to get addicted, you also probably know how hard it is to quit. If you’re one of many Americans struggling to quit, try talking to your doctor to see how they can help. They may be able to give you smoking cessation aids such as patches or gum that will help get rid of the cravings you normally have. 

You can also make a quit plan including your reasons why and the date by which you’ll officially have quit. Then once you’re ready, take that leap. And if you’re scared to do it alone, know you can call a Quitline to have someone help you along the way. 

Not Watching What You Eat 

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good burger or some takeout every now and again, but if it becomes a recurring habit, you could be hurting your heart. 

“Poor dietary habits with excess salt or sugar intake can lead to occurrence or worsening of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which in turn significantly increase the likelihood of serious heart diseases including heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, and arrhythmia,” said Dr. Yu. 

To avoid many of these issues, try sticking to the recommended guidelines provided by The Dietary Guidelines for Americans by consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day limiting your caloric intake from added sugars to no more than 10% each day. 

It might be hard to keep track of at first, but using an app on your phone or keeping track of what you ate in a journal can help you see what parts of your eating habits need to change. 

But changing those habits doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself. Dr. Yu recommended switching out some of the things you eat for healthier alternatives: 

“Instead of munching on potato chips while watching your evening TV show, munch on carrots or turnips – they are surprisingly satisfying once your taste buds switch over. Instead of drinking juice or soda, drink water; if you need help to wean off the taste, consider sugar substitutes or zero-calorie bubble water.” 

Sitting All Day Behind Your Desk 

If you’re like many Americans, you probably spend much of your day hunched over in front of a desk. And even if you don’t feel bad, your mental health and heart probably will in the long run; one study suggests that spending more than three hours a day being sedentary can cause one to  experience higher levels of perceived stress — feelings or thoughts one has about how much stress they are under. And this can be especially bad for your heart if you’re already under a lot of stress at your job.  

So if you’re looking to lower your stress, you may want to try being more active throughout the day. Take short breaks to go for a walk or to stretch. Instead of eating lunch at your desk, take a walk instead. 

“Try to add in physical activities whenever possible, like taking the stairs to your office instead of using the elevator,” added Dr. Yu. 

And if you’re still feeling stressed, try building up your positive thinking skills. 

Or as Dr. Yu put it: “have an upbeat outlook in life – less stress and more smiles make a happier heart.” 

Not Getting Enough Sleep 

We all know what it’s like to not get enough sleep. Your head might hurt, your responses feel delayed, and you feel like your eyes don’t want to stay open no matter how hard you try.  

And while one night is nothing to worry about, getting little to no sleep for long periods of time can mean bad things for your body; according to one scientific review, there’s a correlation between sleep deprivation and hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes. That’s why, beyond just feeling better, it’s so important to get your sleep to prevent cardiovascular diseases.  

To start, be sure to avoid caffeine four to six hours before bed as it could result in poor sleep. Try to add physical activity into your day as that can help you sleep soundly. 

From there, make sure you set a routine and go to bed at the same time every night. Setting a reminder on your phone to get ready for bed may be helpful and some phones even let you set a bedtime alert to remind you when it’s time.  

Don’t Give Up 

You’ve probably tried breaking a habit a few times in your life and you know sometimes it can feel downright impossible. But fortunately, you can always try again to break those habits and work towards a healthier lifestyle. 

If you fall off the saddle, brush yourself off and try again. Before you know it, you’ll be living a healthier year than you did before.  

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