by: NuCara Intern, Lindsey GarnerDrake University, PharmD/MBA Candidate 2016
Smoking is a habit for some, but an addiction for others. It is the #1 preventable cause of death and illness in the United States. We know it can cause narrowing of blood vessels leading to your heart, which, coupled with the carbon monoxide in your blood stream, means decreased oxygen flow to your heart. You can end up with chest pain, heart attack, arrhythmias, or death. Aside from the thousands of unhealthy chemicals found in cigarettes, the nicotine in tobacco products causes a rise in blood pressure. See our post here for more information on how to quit.1
2. Putting off going to the doctor
Just because you didn’t have any health problems when you were 25, doesn’t mean you don’t have any now as a 40 year old. Many people don’t realize that over the course of 10-15 years their body has changed to develop high cholesterol, high triglycerides, or high blood pressure. Even though you don’t feel these things, you still need to see a doctor regularly to get them assessed! It’s time to make your yearly physical a priority.
3. Sleeping too much or not enough
Having an irregular sleep pattern is definitely an annoyance for some and inevitable for others (especially those with demanding jobs, kids, or sleep conditions), but not having a steady sleep routine can put undue pressure on your heart. The stress hormone Cortisol is regulated by your sleep schedule. If your sleep schedule is abnormal, your Cortisol level could remain unnecessarily high throughout the day and night.
- Drinking too much Alcohol
Drinking excessive alcohol puts additional calories and triglycerides into your body. Extra calories and higher triglycerides (sugary fats in the blood) can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Binge drinking can cause arrhythmias (heart beats that are out of normal rhythm), which can lead to stroke. What’s considered excessive? For women the American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day, and men are allowed to have 2. One drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.2
5. Ignoring your Belly Fat
Developing a “belly” with age isn’t supposed to be normal! The more fat you store in your midsection, the higher your risk for cardiovascular disease. Ask your doctor to assess your risk based on waist circumference and visceral fat (the fat between your midsection organs). Men who have a waist circumference greater than 40 inches and women with a waist circumference of greater than 35 inches are at higher risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, breast or colorectal cancer, and heart disease.
- Ignoring your High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can be due to stress, eating a poor diet (especially one high in salt), lack of exercise, lack of sleep, excessive weight, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and advancing age. Any of these sound familiar? Nearly everyone has at least one risk factor for high blood pressure, yet many people don’t remember the last time they got it checked. High blood pressure, while not usually a painful or bothersome diagnosis, can lead to damage in your heart. The longer you let it go unattended, the worse it will get. The good news is that there’s almost always a way to treat it without turning to medication. While medications do an excellent job of improving cardiac outcomes, changing your diet, exercising more, and getting more sleep can all lower your blood pressure.3
- Ignoring your Depression or Anxiety
Even though depression, anxiety, and mental health in general is getting much more help and attention than in years past, there are still many people who don’t think they “qualify” for help. Whether it’s due to cultural, familial, or personal ideas, acknowledging depression or anxiety is still stigmatized in some areas. Unfortunately, people with depression frequently have more biomarkers in their system that indicate a higher risk for cardiovascular events and coronary artery disease. While we’re still trying to figure out if depression comes first or follows a coronary event, the fact remains that the two together mean worse outcomes for the patient. That being said, don’t think that you aren’t important enough for treatment. Depression and anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. Make sure to seek treatment! Your primary care provider or a specialized doctor can both be helpful.
- Pretending you don’t have time for exercise
We’re all guilty of this one — whether it’s pretending not to hear your alarm go off in the morning, or insisting that your day was just too long to put in an extra 30 minutes to go work out. As much as we try to convince ourselves that we can’t make time, a 30 minute walk, jog, or run is only 4% of your day! Like it or not, this is the one thing that you absolutely cannot continue to ignore. The more excuses you make, the harder it is to start. So, give yourself a kick start and make it happen!
- Acting like your dietary choices “aren’t that bad”
Yes they are, and you know it. If you’re eating more than 50% of foods that come from boxes, cans, or packaged on a shelf, then chances are that you’re eating an unnecessary amount of extra sugar, fat, and salt. The extra sugar can lead to insulin resistance, the extra fat can cause increases in triglycerides, and the salt can cause water retention that leads to high blood pressure. A majority of your food choices should come from complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and some whole grains), lean means (including fish), and healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds). Everything you eat either helps or hurts your body, so consider that next time you stop for some fast food eats. Try keeping a food journal for a week, then tell me if your choices “aren’t that bad.” Bonus points can go to anyone who actually eats the recommended daily value of fiber (25 grams).
- Living on caffeine and energy drinks
Energy drinks are packed with caffeine, guarana, and sugar. Drinking even one energy drink can cause a modest spike in blood pressure. Drinking more than one per day is sure to elevate blood pressure, and put you at risk for heart beat irregularities. Drinking more than one per day on a regular basis is going to put your heart in toxic conditions. If you have a familial history of heart disease or arrhythmias, you’re at an even higher risk. Feeling any of the following after drinking one energy drink is a reason to go see a doctor, immediately: racing heart, skipping or jumping heartbeat, feeling jittery or anxious, or extended dizzy spells.