Follow these tips for a healthy heart
What do sleep and sitting, friendship and flossing have to do with heart health? Researchers are learning more about the relationship between ordinary behaviors and the risk of heart disease and heart-related deaths.
“For people who want to avoid heart disease, there are some interesting clues, and we might want to take pieces of these things and apply them to our own lives,” says Dr. Ryan Hoefen, a cardiologist with Rochester Regional Health in Rochester, New York.
Take sleep. The American Heart Association released a study that shows that insomnia may raise the risk of heart attack, and another that shows how poor-quality sleep is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. In addition, many studies link sleep apnea to high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke and heart failure.
UR Medicine interventional cardiologist Dr. Christopher Cove says “when I’m in the office with patients, right after we talk about cardiac symptoms, we talk about sleep patterns.”
Dr. Cove believes that the single most important factor contributing to daily stress is poor sleep.
“It comes from being stressed out, from overwork and from diseases like obstructive sleep apnea.” Cove said. “These things have been shown over and over again to increase a patient’s risk of heart disease.”
Studies suggest that people who sleep seven to eight hours a day have a lower risk of heart disease than people who sleep less than six hours or more than nine hours. Dr. Hoefen says, “In these studies, seven to eight hours seems to be best for the heart.”
Researchers have also explored the risks associated with too much sitting. A science advisory from the American Heart Association states that people who spend too many wakeful hours seated are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, regardless of whether they also exercise regularly.
“If we exercise for half an hour and then sit at a desk for eight hours, then go home and sit in front of the TV for another two to three hours, that sitting can actually undo the beneficial effects of the exercise,” Hoefen says.
Experts advise people who are required to sit for long periods to take breaks. Hoefen says “if you sit at a desk at work, getting up every 30 to 60 minutes and walking around is very important.”
Walking outside can be even more beneficial. Cove says “even 10 minutes of getting outside and walking around completely changes your attitude.”
Cove also notes that having a dog gets people up and out of their chairs.
“I’ve had patients who’ve lost their dog come in and report to me they’ve gained 20 pounds and they feel horrible,” Cove said.
Having a dog forces people to go for walks and also provides what Cove calls a “connection,” which is also good for the heart.
We know friends make us feel good, but friendship is truly heart healthy. Research indicates that people who feel connected, particularly those with the support of close friends, are likely to live longer, manage stress more effectively, and have less heart disease. On the other hand, people who are isolated are at a significantly greater risk of poor health.
A study published by the British Cardiovascular Society found that poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of chronic heart disease and a 32 percent increase in risk of stroke. Another study conducted over several years in Sweden presented evidence that men with close friendships are at a reduced risk of having a first heart attack.
Cove explains: “being connected, talking and laughing all reduce stress,” and stress contributes to heart disease.
A final heart-healthy practice we should probably engage in without our friends is … flossing!
According to Hoefen, “there’s a big association between gum disease and heart disease.”
“Just how much gum disease has a causal effect on heart health is not clear, but there is a strong enough link that some organizations consider gum disease a risk factor,” he said.
Cove added: “Gingivitis is a chronic inflammatory disease, and chronic inflammation increases the risk of heart disease.”
There’s only one way to cure gum disease. Cove says “a lot of chronic inflammatory diseases can be treated with medication,” but the only way to treat gum disease is with good dental hygiene. He warns “not only going to the dentist, but flossing your teeth.”
Can a good night’s sleep, time with friends, getting off the couch and taking care of our teeth really improve our heart health?
Hoefen’s advice is simple: “It all comes back to an overall healthy lifestyle with a lot of activity and a well-balanced diet.”
Cove agrees. “It’s kind of what your mother told you, get plenty of sleep and eat your vegetables.” And floss.
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