While it may not be pleasant to think about, more than 380,000 Americans die every year from heart disease.1 To make things worse, roughly 17 percent of Americans aged 65 or older have some form of coronary heart disease (CHD).2 Fortunately, if you eat a healthy diet, take part in cardiovascular exercise as often as possible, and get regular check-ups with your doctor, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing a serious heart condition.
However, these aren't the only activities that can prolong or prevent CHD. Today, we'll take a closer look at eight surprising things that can impact your heart health.
Everybody knows that sleep is good for you. While eight hours per night is the general rule, the amount of sleep you really need will vary from one person to the next. Thankfully, your body has various ways of telling you that you're not getting enough sleep. If you're struggling to handle daily activities or you're experiencing “brain fog,” there's a good chance that a lack of sleep is the culprit.
Did You Know? Getting adequate sleep can also greatly reduce your risk of becoming sick from infectious diseases.3
However, lack of sleep doesn't just affect your daily routine; it can also have a lasting impact on your heart. Studies show that not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can increase your chances of experiencing high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. In turn, all of these conditions can contribute to, or exacerbate, CHD.
So, to improve your health, make sure to practice good sleep hygiene! If you're not sure how to make your sleep better, here are a few tips to help get you started:
- Set a specific time each night to go to bed as well as a specific time to wake up
- Make sure your room is dark and comfortable when you're ready to sleep
- Try to avoid using screens (phones, computers, etc.) right before bed
- Reduce your caffeine intake, particularly in the late afternoon or evening
Medical experts continue to debate the value of breakfast. Traditionally, it has been called the most important meal of the day. However, more research into dietary habits and how these habits contribute to overall health indicate that breakfast may not be necessary for everyone. That said, for most older adults, breakfast is still an essential part of a healthy diet.
In fact, skipping breakfast has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. While the reasons why are not entirely clear, experts believe that skipping breakfast often leads to overeating later in the day. Since breakfast offers the perfect way to break your overnight fasting (hence the name) and replenish your glucose levels, it is one of the easiest ways to have more energy throughout the day and even burn more calories.
That said, you can't eat just anything for breakfast and expect it to improve your heart health. It is best to avoid sugary cereals and other high-calorie items in the morning. While fruits, grains, and eggs are all great options, you should talk to your doctor to help you determine the best breakfast options for you.
It's easy to overlook vitamin D when evaluating your vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Why? Because vitamin D is one of the easiest vitamins to absorb. You can go outside and do some gardening for as little as 10 minutes per day to get all the vitamin D your body needs from the sun. Plus, many foods like fish, leafy greens, and certain types of beans contain tons of vitamin D.
FYI: If you're not getting enough vitamin D, you're at an increased risk of experiencing bone and muscle pain.4
Nonetheless, many older adults still don't get enough of this important vitamin. This is often because older adults, especially seniors with mobility issues, might not be able to get as much sunlight as they need. Fortunately, even if you struggle to get outside or eat foods rich in vitamin D, you can still add vitamin D supplements to your daily routine.
Your dentist probably tells you to floss whenever you come in for a cleaning, and for good reason. Not only is flossing good for your dental hygiene, it could also have a major impact on your heart. While flossing itself is not good for your heart per se, the effects of not flossing enough can lead to CHD.
But what does flossing have to do with your heart? Recent research has shown that there is a direct link between gum and heart disease. Gum disease (known as periodontitis) is often caused by a combination of factors, including too much sugar in your diet and a lack of oral hygiene. Even if your diet is not ideal, you can still avoid gum disease by brushing your teeth and flossing every day. This, in turn, could help reduce the risk of developing CHD, as well.
If someone makes you sad, people might say that they “broke your heart.” And there's a reason that your heart is symbolically connected with your emotional state. Things like depression, loneliness, and stress can all have a negative impact on your heart health. Anything that you do to counteract these negative emotions can greatly reduce your chances of developing heart disease or heart-related health problems.
While gratitude is a broad concept to recommend, it is scientifically proven to help boost your heart health. Both giving and receiving gratitude can have a positive effect on your mental health while indirectly helping your heart. Showing gratitude through hugging is especially beneficial, as hugging can lower your blood pressure and reduce the effects of stress hormones.
If you've always wanted to be told that chocolate is healthy, we have some good news for you (sort of). While milk chocolate and ultra-sweet chocolate candies have very few health benefits, dark chocolate can actually be a great way to improve your heart health and enjoy a delicious treat at the same time. This is because dark chocolate is packed with natural antioxidants. Eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly can also reduce the risk of CHD and lower your blood pressure.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that 1 ounce of dark chocolate typically has at least 150 calories, so you should limit yourself to no more than 1 or 2 ounces of dark chocolate per day.5
Before you start stocking your shelves with chocolate, it's important to remember that not all chocolate is created equal. Pure dark chocolate with little added sugar is good for you (in moderation). However, milk chocolate or dark chocolate that has a lot of extra sugar or saturated fat will end up doing more harm than good.
There are almost too many reasons to consider adding green tea to your daily routine. First and foremost, it can serve as a healthy replacement for coffee. So, if you're looking to cut coffee out of your life, green tea could actually help you do it.
Green tea has also been linked with a plethora of major health benefits. It is believed that green tea can improve brain function, boost metabolism, reduce the risk of certain cancers, prevent diabetes, and help promote weight loss. On top of all that, green tea may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
This is partially due to the fact that green tea has been linked to an overall reduction in cholesterol levels. In addition to lowering cholesterol, green tea can make it easier for your body to make use of antioxidants. As a result, people who drink green tea regularly are, on average, about 31 percent less likely to die from CHD.6
It seems that laughter really is the best medicine! In fact, laughter can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart disease. When you laugh, your heart rate increases and you take in more oxygen. As more oxygenated blood flows through your body, your circulation improves. Laughter also increases the endorphins released in your body, lowering your blood pressure and working against the effects of stress hormones. So, don't be afraid to laugh as often as you can!
There are a lot of small things that can have a big impact on your heart health. From getting enough sunshine to flossing every day, there are various ways that you can prevent heart problems and improve your overall health. Just remember that this is not an exhaustive list of everything you can and should do for your heart. If you're considering a change to your diet or lifestyle, make sure to consult your doctor first.