Some heart-healthy behaviors get all the press, like getting regular exercise, eating your fruits and veggies and quitting smoking. But there are also some habits that are bad for your heart that may be a little less obvious.
Here, John Higgins, MD, sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston, shares six surprising habits that may spell trouble for your ticker, plus what to do instead to support heart health.
1. You’re Angry a Lot
We all see red sometimes, but getting ticked off all the time takes a toll on your ticker. Indeed, anger is one letter away from danger for your body, Dr. Higgins says.
Here's why: When you're angry, your nervous system goes into overdrive, and your body releases hormones that lead to elevated blood pressure and heart rate, putting added stress on the cardiovascular system, he explains.
In addition, stress hormones like cortisol can cause fluid retention (potentially leading to higher blood pressure and a greater risk of stroke), screw with your blood sugar levels and negatively affect sleep quality, all of which aren't good for your heart, Dr. Higgins says.
What's more, regular bouts of anger can also weaken your immune system, possibly leading to more infections, and chronically angry people tend to suffer from more anxiety and depression, which are linked to heart disease and a shorter lifespan, Dr. Higgins adds.
2. You're Exercising Too Much
While exercise is essential for a healthy heart, there really can be too much of a good thing when it comes to working out. Overtraining can lead to hormone imbalances, reduced immunity, impaired metabolism and excess cardiovascular system stress, among other things, Dr. Higgins says.
It's true: A November 2017 study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that people who exercised for triple the amount of time recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines — 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week — had higher odds of developing coronary artery calcification.
Fix it: Stick to the guidelines and give yourself enough rest between exercise sessions. “A good rule of thumb for most adults is a 48-hour recovery after a hard workout,” Dr. Higgins says.
3. You're Not Flossing Enough
Neglecting your gums? Not a good idea.
"Not flossing leads to inflammation and infection of the gums (gingivitis), which has been associated with increased buildup of atherosclerotic plaque (hardening of the arteries)," Dr. Higgins says.
In fact, people with severe gum disease appear to have double the chance of developing high blood pressure, which translates into an increased risk of cardiovascular issues, according to a March 2021 study in Hypertension.
Need another reason to floss? Here are three: Regular flossing can also reduce respiratory illness, improve bad breath and help manage diabetes, Dr. Higgins adds.
Fix it: Take care of your teeth: Floss every night, brush twice daily and see your dentist for routine checkups and cleanings.
4. You're Sleeping Too Much
While catching enough zzzs is crucial for your overall health, hitting the snooze button too often could be hindering your heart health. "Oversleeping means that you have fewer total hours in the day that you are up and active," Dr. Higgins says.
And lack of physical activity can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, which all increase the likelihood of developing heart disease, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What's worse, oversleeping was even associated with a greater risk of death, according to a May 2010 systematic review and meta-analysis in Sleep.
Fix it: Sleep quality trumps quantity, says Dr. Higgins, adding that seven to nine hours of restful slumber per night is the sweet spot.
If you’re still feeling tired, you might be dealing with an underlying medical condition like sleep apnea (more on this later) or restless leg syndrome, Dr. Higgins says. If that's the case, talk to your doctor, who can help make a diagnosis and steer you in the right direction for treatment.
5. You Ignore Your Snoring
While you may dismiss your snoring as just an annoying habit, at times it can signal something more serious. "Snoring can mean that you are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea," Dr. Higgins says.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes abnormal breathing during sleep, and if left untreated, it can lead to a host of health problems. Specifically, because it affects the body's supply of oxygen, sleep apnea raises your risk for cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, heart attack, heart disease and stroke, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Fix it: If you’re a habitual snorer, speak with your doctor, who may recommend an overnight sleep study to monitor and analyze your sleep. Understanding the root cause of your snoring can help determine the best course of treatment if you do suffer from sleep apnea.
Isolation and loneliness can have a literal affect on your heart.
"People who aren't social tend to have higher rates of anxiety and depression, which often leads to unhealthy behaviors like oversleeping, smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise," Dr. Higgins says. And we already know these habits can hamper your heart health.
Case in point: People without close relationships had a significantly increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, according to an April 2016 article in Heart.
Fix it: Stay connected with your family and friends. A little face time — even if it’s just via Zoom — can do wonders to lift your spirits, help you cope with hard times and keep your heart healthy.
Is This an Emergency?
- Hypertension: “Association Between Periodontitis and Blood Pressure Highlighted in Systemically Healthy Individuals”
- Sleep: “Sleep Duration and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Lack of Physical Activity”
- Sleep Foundation: “Sleep Apnea”
- Heart: “Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies”
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: “25-Year Physical Activity Trajectories and Development of Subclinical Coronary Artery Disease as Measured by Coronary Artery Calcium: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study”
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: 2nd Edition"