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Breaking Bad Habits for a Healthy Heart

Last updated: February 14, 2022

Biting your nails and cracking your knuckles are some bad habits that, while annoying to some, are mostly harmless. Other habits, though, can negatively affect your body — namely your heart. 

“Some common habits that are detrimental to heart health include cigarette smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet, lack of sleep, and sedentary lifestyle,” says Dr. Dong Bo Yu, Non-Invasive Cardiologist at ThedaCare

While it’s easy to think doing something once in a while carries little risk, it’s a bit more complicated than that, Dr. Yu says.

“We tend to think of the effects of these bad habits as long-term and accumulative,” he says. “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.” 

The new year offers an ideal time to address negative habits and adopt new, healthier ones.

Excessive Drinking 

A glass of beer or wine may feel nice for some — especially after a long day. Consuming too much alcohol, however, can negatively affect for your heart. But how much is too much? 

“The answer is complex, as both the quantity and frequency of drinking need to be factored in,” Dr. Yu says.  “While a couple of drinks on any given night are probably OK, you need to be concerned if your drinking becomes a routine or habit, and if you find that drinking is affecting your judgment and behavior.” 

If you recognize that it may be time to cut down on your alcohol consumption, set a goal of drinking less frequently. Reducing the amount you drink can yield big health gains. Talk to your primary care provider if you’re concerned about your reliance on alcohol.

Poor Dental Hygiene 

You probably knew that poor dental hygiene is bad for your teeth, but it could also harm your heart.  

“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 issues such as dental hygiene to avoid bacterial infections in the heart called endocarditis” Dr. Yu says. 

To take care of your teeth, brush at least twice a day and floss once a day. It’s also important to see your dentist twice a year.

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,” Dr. Yu says.  

Breaking free from addiction can be difficult. If you’re struggling to quit, talk to your doctor. ThedaCare offers tools to help with smoking cessation.

Unhealthy Diet 

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

To reduce your risk of developing these conditions, try sticking to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They call for consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day and limiting your caloric intake from added sugars to no more than 10% each day. 

Adopting healthier eating habits doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself. Dr. Yu recommends finding healthier alternatives to foods you eat frequently.

“Instead of snacking on potato chips while watching your evening TV show, munch on carrots or turnips. They’re surprisingly satisfying once your taste buds switch over,” he says. “Instead of drinking juice or soda, drink water. If you need help weaning off the taste, consider sugar substitutes or zero-calorie sparkling water.” 

Sedentary Lifestyle

If you’re like many Americans, you probably spend much of your day hunched over a desk. Even if you don’t feel bad physically, your heart and mental health can suffer in the long run. One study found that sedentary lifestyles can lead to higher levels of perceived stress. This can be especially bad for your heart if you’re already under a lot of stress at your job.  

To lower your stress, try incorporating more activity throughout the day. Take short breaks to go for a walk or stretch. Park farther away. Take the stairs instead of using the elevator.

You can also building up your positive thinking skills.

“Have an upbeat outlook in life — less stress and more smiles make a happier heart,” Dr. Yu says. 

Inadequate Sleep

Poor sleep is connected to many health risks including hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes. Healthy sleep not only makes you feel but better but also helps prevent cardiovascular diseases.  

Be sure to avoid caffeine four to six hours before bed. Add physical activity into your day to help you sleep soundly. Set a routine that includes going to bed and rising at the same time each day.

Don’t Give Up 

If you’re struggling to give up unhealthy habits, talk to your primary care provider. They can help you assess your heart health risks and recommend positive steps that you can take.

Due for an annual wellness visit? Schedule today.

Tags: exercise healthy diet healthy heart habits heart health

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