Seven habits bad for your heart

From too much sitting to not flossing your teeth


Alabaster heart on EKG readoutYou don't have to be overweight or a smoker to raise your risk of heart disease. Many people are guilty of everyday bad habits which harm their heart. From spending too much time watching TV to not flossing, here are seven habits you need to change...

See also: Drinking red wine 'could help hearts of people with Type 2 diabetes'

See also: More than half of heart attacks have no symptoms

1. You spend too much time sitting
Sitting is the new smoking when it comes to heart disease. People who sit for five hours or more each day have double the risk for heart failure, according to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation Heart Failure.

Even if you go to the gym regularly, intermittent exercise doesn't compensate for the time you sit. If you have a desk job, take a break every hour and walk for five minutes. This small change to your routine can help to keep your arteries flexible and circulation healthy, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. You could also try using a standing desk, and can even buy desks with a treadmill built in.

Likewise, find ways to get some exercise when you're watching TV. Instead of sitting in your favourite chair, work the exercise bike while watching your favourite soap or documentary. You don't have to pedal hard, just keep moving. If that's not an option, be sure to get up and stretch your legs at least once an hour. Get into a routine, and it will become second nature.

2. You drink too much
There are some studies to suggest that drinking one small glass of red wine a day is good for your heart, particularly for women of post-menopausal age. But be careful – drink more than one small glass of wine (for women) or two glasses (for men) a day and it can increase your risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Excessive drinking can interrupt your normal heart rhythm and cause heart failure. If you like a drink, try to cut down and abstain two or three days of the week.

3. You're stressed out
Stress triggers the body to release adrenaline and cortisol as part of the "flight or fight response." This temporarily raises your heart rate and blood pressure – and left unchecked can damage blood vessels in the heart and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Another reason stressed out people are susceptible to heart disease is because they don't make time to eat well, don't sleep well, and don't exercise.

If you're feeling stressed, talk things over – whether that's with your manager at work, HR department, GP or counsellor. Aim to do 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week, and try yoga or listen to a relaxation or meditation CD.

4. You don't floss your teeth
Need another reason to floss? Research has shown a strong link between gum disease and heart disease – if you don't take care of your teeth, you could be putting your heart at risk.

Don't floss and bacteria-laden plaque builds up on the teeth over time, which can lead to gum disease. One theory is that these bacteria cause inflammation throughout the body, which effects blood vessel function.

Visit your hygienist at least once year. As well as giving your teeth a good clean, they can advise on the best products and techniques to brush and floss your teeth.

5. You don't get enough sleep
Chronic sleep deprivation raises your resting cortisol and adrenaline levels, putting your body in a constant state of stress, which can harm your heart over time.

People aged over 45 who got less than six hours of sleep per night had twice the risk of heart attack compared with a similar group who slept between six and eight hours, according to a study from Warwick Medical School published in the European Heart Journal.

Experts recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, while teenagers and young adults should get nine to ten hours.

6. You eat a lot of red meat
Eating red meat, particular processed red meat like bacon, ham and sausages, has been linked to heart disease, as well as cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

According to health experts, meat raises blood levels of TMAO, an organic compound associated with heart attacks. There's also a theory that meat eaters tend to eat fewer heart-protecting fruit and vegetables.

To protect your heart, opt for a Mediterranean Diet – high in fish, fruit and vegetables and olive oil, with some chicken and little or no red meat.

Can't give up red meat? Have it just once a week and opt for organic steak rather than bacon and sausages.

7. You eat too much salt
Eating too much can raise your blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. It's not just the salt you sprinkle on your food you have to watch – most of the sodium we eat is hidden in things like tinned soup, processed lunch meats, ready meals and salty snacks like crisps.

Current guidelines recommend no more than 6g of salt per day for adults. If you have high blood pressure or have been diagnosed with a heart problem, it's even more important to limit your salt intake.