Four New Things About Your Heart You MUST Learn
We know a lot about heart disease.
For instance, we know that it's the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
We know that over 600,000 people die each year from heart disease or related complications.
We know that every 43 seconds, someone in this country suffers a heart attack. Chances are, you or someone you know is at risk for developing heart disease. The problem is very real.
And for as much as we know about the disease, we're still learning more and more about how to prevent it. The fact is, most of the risk factors for heart disease are lifestyle-related. This is actually good news, because it means that there's a lot you can do to protect yourself. Smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity are just a few of the common risk factors that you can control.
You hear about these risk factors almost anywhere - on the television, in the news, from your doctor. And here's another likely source: the drug companies who are trying to sell you medications.
But what about less commonly known risk factors for heart disease? Are we doing all we can do to keep our hearts healthy? How many other options do we have to prevent heart disease besides popping pills?
Research is building that links heart disease to a few factors that may surprise you. Let's take a look.
Inflammation. Drug companies want you to believe that when it comes to heart disease, it's all about cholesterol. Having a lot of so-called "bad" cholesterol is supposedly what causes your arteries to clog up with plaque. But new research points to inflammation as the biggest cause of plaque build-up. And what causes inflammation within the body?
There are several things, but the main causes are smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating sugar and grains. Having certain inflammatory diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, has also been linked to an increased risk for heart disease. What you can do: quit smoking and avoid eating processed foods, including pasta and bread.
Gum and Teeth Health. Do you brush your teeth and floss daily? If you don't, your bad breath might not be your only problem. Research shows that people with poor dental health have an increased risk of heart disease. Why? Because of gum disease. Gum disease-one of the most common chronic health conditions in the world -causes inflammation in the body, which we now know is problematic for your heart. What you can do: be sure to brush and floss your teeth regularly.
Cold Weather. If you live in a part of the world that gets cold in the winter, you may need to take extra precautions to stay heart healthy. Research shows that cold weather increases the risk for a heart attack. Cold weather can strain your heart by causing hypothermia, which happens when your internal body temperature drops. In extreme cases, hypothermia can lead to heart failure. But even mild changes in body temperature can cause problems such as an irregular heart beat. If you're exerting yourself with outdoor physical activity (like shoveling snow), your body has to work extra hard to regulate your temperature, which also can stress your arteries and heart.
Cold weather has also been shown to increase blood pressure and raise the levels of certain proteins in the blood that cause clots. Bottom line: cold weather doesn't necessarily cause heart disease, but it can lead to complications if you already have it. Cold weather can also worsen other risk factors. What you can do: when it's cold out, wear layers and stay dry. Take it easy when shoveling snow, or doing any kind of outdoor winter activity. Maybe invest in a snowblower.
Air Quality. Like extreme weather, air quality is another surprising factor that affects heart health. Certain air-borne pollutants may trigger problems such as irregular heart beat, chest pain, and stroke. It's important to note that overall, the risk is very low that air pollution will cause heart problems for most people.
There's certainly no need to panic. But for people who already have heart disease, or who are at higher risk of developing it, local air quality can be important to monitor. What you can do: Avoid traveling during rush hour, and go online to check your local air quality. Take measures to minimize stress, especially when it comes to traffic and commuting.
Most of the factors that cause heart disease are well-known and controllable. The "usual suspects" include stress, tobacco and alcohol use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and obesity. But it's worth it to stay informed about lesser-known risk factors, too. You never know what small changes to your lifestyle will help maintain your heart health.
What you really need to know, and what you can do:
• Inflammation in the body is a huge risk factor for heart disease. To reduce inflammation, stop smoking, avoid alcohol, and avoid sugar and grains. Yup, even whole wheat.
• The health of your mouth can affect your heart. Keep your teeth and gums healthy! Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time. Also, floss once a day. Use alcohol-free mouthwash to kill bacteria and protect your teeth.
• If you live in a part of the world that gets cold in the winter, be prepared when you go outside. Wear layers to help regulate your body temperature. If you don't feel fit enough to shovel snow, get someone to help you.
• Learn about the local air quality in your area. Ask your town government or check online. To improve the air quality inside your home, buy a house plant or update your heating and cooling system.
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