If you want a strong heart, there are certain things that you need to avoid. These bad habits include smoking, being inactive, eating poorly, and being overweight.
Other bad habits include drinking too much alcohol and getting too little sleep. Some of these habits are obvious, but some might surprise you.
1. Eating Too Much Red Meat
Red meat has received bad press because it is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Yet, most people who eat a lot of red meat tend to have other unhealthy habits such as not exercising, eating too many processed foods and drinking too much alcohol.
Studies have shown that high intake of red and processed meats increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that high consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease death, even when adjusting for other known risk factors such as saturated fat and cholesterol.
The key is to eat red meat only occasionally, choosing lean options like pork loin, tenderloin and center cut chops as well as limiting portion sizes to no more than 6 ounces per week. Lean cuts of beef and lamb are also good sources of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
2. Not Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables
Despite the best intentions, most people don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. They’re missing out on a host of heart-healthy benefits including fiber, potassium, magnesium, antioxidants and phytochemicals (plant chemicals).
The researchers estimate that low fruit and vegetable intake causes one in seven cardiovascular deaths each year. Adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet is an easy fix. Start by keeping ready-to-eat washed whole fruits or chopped veggies in the fridge for easy snacking and add them to salads, soups, stir-fries and curries.
Try to aim for half a plate of veggies and fruit each day. Eat a variety of colors to ensure you’re getting a mix of nutrients, and use the nutrient-rich skins when possible. Vitamin C from kiwis, oranges, strawberries and broccoli, for example, controls artery-damaging inflammation and boosts nitric oxide to improve blood flow. Choosing fish over red meat and limiting processed foods can also help protect your heart.
3. Not Moving Enough
The heart is a muscle, and like any other one it needs exercise to stay healthy. If not used regularly, the muscle will weaken and atrophy. But there’s a window, according to Levine—about the middle of life, when you can get your heart back on track by exercising more.
If you work at a desk job, for instance, try getting up to walk around the office every hour or so, or use a standing desk. And when you’re binge-watching your favorite show, get up and dance or do push-ups during the commercials.
Drinking too much also damages your heart. Even a few drinks daily can raise blood pressure and increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol, and obesity. Try to keep your alcohol consumption below the recommended limit of two drinks per day for men and one for women.
4. Watching Too Much TV
A long evening in front of the TV may seem like a great way to unwind after a tough day, but new research shows that binge watching too much television can damage your heart. This passive, sedentary behaviour has been linked to several heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
Those who watch four or more hours of TV a day are at a greater risk for blood clots such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal, the study found. These clots are caused by long periods of sitting still, such as when you’re on a plane or at home in front of the TV.
The study also found that people who watched more TV were at a higher risk for incident atrial fibrillation (AF), regardless of whether they got the recommended amount of physical activity or not. However, the link between TV watching and AF was stronger in those with a genetic predisposition to coronary artery disease.