7 Things Your Heart Doctor Wants You to Stop Doing Immediately

Smoking and stressing aren't the only activities that hurt your heart.

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Heart disease, the leading cause of death among American men and women, is responsible for one-fourth of all deaths. Although there are some risk factors of heart disease that can’t be changed, like age and family history, it is possible to decrease your risk.

Things we do every day, from the foods we eat to the activities we do, have an effect on your heart. Smoking, obesity, inactivity and an unhealthy diet all increase your risk of developing heart disease.

Eduardo Esper, MD, FACS, FCCP, a cardiothoracic, vascular and endovascular surgeon who did his cardiothoracic training at the University of Chicago and currently works with Terre Haute Regional Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, reveals some of the worst habits for your heart that doctors wish you’d kick.

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Sitting too Much

It’s recommended adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, which can help manage weight, maintain muscle mass and improve the health of your heart. After a long day, mustering the energy to exercise can be a challenge, and many of us resort to hours spent sitting in front of the television or computer. But sitting at home isn’t the only risk; one study linked having a desk-bound job to a larger waistline and higher rates of heart disease. 

The average person spends more than half of his or her waking hours sitting. Research suggests too much time sitting and not enough spent exercising can up your risk of dying from all causes, including heart disease.

Esper acknowledges that exercising takes effort, but recommends getting your body moving anyway. “Even though exercise can be difficult, it’s definitely important to find the time to do it for 20 or 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week,” he says. 

You don’t have to hit the gym every day, either. Household chores like laundry, dishes and gardening are simple ways to get your body moving. Use a step tracker, like Sharecare, to track your daily steps. That way, you can monitor your progress as you add more and more movement to your day. 

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Eating too Much Sugar

The average American consumes at least 10 percent of their daily calories in the form of added sugars; for a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 200 calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends women consume no more than 100 calories of added sugar a day, and men, no more than 150. Added sugars are lurking in foods like pasta sauce, peanut butter, granola and even yogurt, so it’s important to check nutritional labels while you’re shopping.

Results from one 15-year study suggest a diet high in added sugars increases the risk of dying from heart disease. In fact, the study suggests the more sugar you consume, the more you increase your risk. Participants who consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of added sugar were nearly three times as likely to die from heart disease, when compared to those whose calories amounted to less than 10 percent of total daily intake. 

There are ways to sweeten your diet without overdoing the added sugar.

  • Eat whole fruits instead of juices
  • Replace the sugar in your coffee with cinnamon
  • Make your own sauces and dressings 
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Eating the Wrong Fats

Our bodies need healthy fats to function properly, but the types of fats you choose make all the difference. Healthy fats—or unsaturated fats—can actually boost your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. Monounsaturated, like those found in olive oil, avocado and almonds, and polyunsaturated fats, like salmon, tuna and tofu, are beneficial to the health of your heart and your body.

If you’re loading your plate with trans and saturated fats, like beef, butter, fried foods and whole-milk cheese, you’re likely doing your ticker a disservice. These unhealthy fats can raise bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and some types decrease good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL). 

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Taking Supplements in place of whole foods

Nearly 68 percent of Americans report taking dietary supplements, either on a regular basis or occasionally. Vitamin and mineral supplements claim to do many things, like prevent disease, improve your health and fight deficiencies. In reality, we probably don’t need these supplements as much as we think.

One concern is that people are using multivitamins and vitamin supplements as a replacement for a healthy diet. However, supplements don’t counteract the damaging effects a diet rich in unhealthy calories, saturated fats and added sugars may have on your heart.

Consuming necessary nutrients through healthy whole foods is preferable to popping pills. The AHA recommends loading your plate with healthy ingredients like nutrient-packed fruits and vegetable, fiber-rich whole grains, lean protein and heart-healthy nuts and seeds.

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Ignoring Your Snoring

Snoring may be more than a nighttime nuisance. It’s one symptom of sleep apnea, a condition that causes repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night. Sleep apnea is relatively common, affecting one in every five adults, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

Not only does sleep apnea prevent a good night’s sleep, but it can increase the risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, two risks of heart disease.

Even when snoring isn’t linked to sleep apnea, you may still be at risk. Some studies have suggested that snoring can cause inflammation of the carotid artery, the vessel responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the brain, which can lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in the arteries that can up your risk for heart attack.

Don’t suffer through another sleepless night—talk to your doctor about your snoring habits.

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Disregarding Signs of Depression

If you’re ignoring signs of depression, like sadness, lack of energy, irritability or a loss of interest in activities you enjoy, your heart could be at risk. One in every ten Americans over the age of 18 has depression, and nearly 33 percent of all heart attack patients have been diagnosed with the condition.

Heart problems and depression are linked in more ways than one. Some symptoms of depression make living a healthy lifestyle more difficult. People with depression are more likely to use drinking, smoking or overeating as ways to cope. They may also be less likely to exercise and take necessary medication. These are all linked to higher risk of heart disease. Depression can also increase the levels of stress hormones and glucose levels in your body, both of which put stress on the heart.

If you are experiencing signs of depression, speak with your doctor about possible treatment options.

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Not Listening to Your Doctor

A visit to the cardiologist can be a bit intimidating, but it’s important to remember your doctor is only trying to help. “I think people need to trust their doctors,” says Esper. “Respect between the patient and the doctor needs to be stronger.”

Research suggests the relationship between a patient and a doctor has some effect on the outcome of care. The doctor-patients relationship is a unique one that involves some key elements: knowledge, trust, loyalty and regard.

There are steps you can take to ensure a better outcome for your care, and a more enjoyable visit with your doctor.

  • Have a clear idea of why you’re visiting your doctor
  • Brush up on your medical history—make a list if you have to
  • Be honest with your doctor
  • Express your values and ideals during your visit

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