NEVER OVERTAX YOUR HEART.
Your heart is the hardest working muscle in your body, beating around 70 times per minute, or 100,000 times per day, or about 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime. Like any muscle, if you overtax it and force it to work even harder than normal, it can become damaged. And sometimes that damage can be fatal. Some of the ways we overtax our hearts may seem obvious — carrying too much belly fat or getting too aggressive with the snow shovel. Others, like sitting for hours or drinking too much or not getting enough sleep, might easily be overlooked. Once you become aware of how you can tax your heart, and how to prevent doing so, you'll have taken a big step toward reducing the chance of a heart attack or stroke.
2 / 9 Too Much Belly Fat Weighs on the Heart
Fat that accumulates around the belly — called visceral fat — is an important indicator of your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Visceral fat changes how cholesterol is metabolized, increases blood pressure, and puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes. Even people of normal weight who have excess belly fat are at risk. Measure your waist circumference by placing a tape measure around your bare abdomen just above your hip bone (no sucking in!). If you're a woman, a waist circumference of more than 35 inches puts you at risk; if you're a man, a waist circumference of more than 40 inches is a risk factor.
Protect yourself. The only way to reduce visceral fat is to lose weight, and the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in from food. If you reduce calories and exercise more, you will lose weight everywhere — including your belly. For normal-weight people with central obesity, the only way to reduce the risk is to build muscle mass so that the weight is redistributed.
3 / 9 Smoking Doubles Heart Disease Risk
At any age, smoking at least doubles your risk for heart disease. In fact, smoking can trigger a heart attack even if your arteries are nearly perfect. Once you light up, smoking narrows your arteries, raises your blood pressure, increases your risk of irregular heartbeat like atrial fibrillation, and makes your blood sticky and more likely to clot. Smoking also lowers your HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Protect yourself: As soon as you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease begins to decline. Within 2 weeks your risk of suffering a heart attack begins to decrease. If you want help in your effort to stop smoking, talk with your doctor. Medications are available and there are plenty of support groups you can contact.
4 / 9 High Blood Pressure Puts the Heart in Danger
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is dangerous to your heart because it stiffens and narrows blood vessels, forcing the heart to work harder. Overworking your heart causes the heart muscle to thicken, like any muscle being worked strenuously. Over time, this can lead to heart failure. High blood pressure also promotes atherosclerosis by weakening the protective lining of the artery walls and allowing bad cholesterol to burrow in.
Protect yourself: Expert guidelines for what constitutes "high" versus "normal" blood pressure keep changing. That's why your doctor should look at your blood pressure within the context of your overall risk profile. If you haven't had your blood pressure checked recently, make an appointment with your doctor. The best way to lower blood pressure is to maintain a healthy diet and weight, exercise regularly, stop smoking, and moderate alcohol and sodium intake.
5 / 9 Strenuous Exercise Makes Heart Rates Jump
Overexertion when you're not fit creates a huge pulse of adrenaline that can cause blood pressure and heart rate to jump, inducing a heart attack or even sudden death. The heart attack that occurs while shoveling snow is a classic case, but it could also happen on the tennis court if you're used to playing doubles and unexpectedly get into a competitive singles match on a hot, humid day. The problem arises when you suddenly overtax your untrained body.
Protect yourself: Talk with your doctor before grabbing that snow shovel or deciding to sprint on that dusty treadmill. Regular exercise protects your heart but you need to intensify it gradually. Getting fit should be a slow and careful process.
6 / 9 Excessive Drinking Disrupts Heart Rate
Too much alcohol can result in abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), often called "holiday heart" because they seem to affect more people during the holidays. "Holiday heart" palpitations feel like little flutters or extra beats in your chest, and they may last just a few seconds or go on quite a bit longer. Luckily, most people find that the palpitations go away completely when the alcohol leaves their body. If they persist or are associated with a type of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation (shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness along with the palpitations), they can be serious and you'll need to see your doctor.
Protect yourself: Keep your alcohol intake moderate, especially if you know you have other heart disease risk factors. No more than one drink a day for women and two for men is recommended.
7 / 9 Too Much Stress Causes Code Red
When you're under a great deal of emotional or physical stress, your body is flooded bycatecholamines. These "alert hormones" put all your systems on Code Red: Your blood pressure jumps, your heart rate spikes, and, in extreme cases, you suffer chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, and other heart attack–like symptoms.
Protect yourself: The next time you feel panicked or suffer a shock, or even feel extremely sad, inhale through your nose for a few seconds, then exhale through your mouth until every last bit of air is out of your lungs. Repeat until you start to settle down. If you don't relax, and if you have even the slightest suspicion that you may be having a heart attack, don't second-guess your symptoms. Call Emergency immediately.
8 / 9 Prolonged Sitting Takes a Toll
Our sit-down-all-day, lounge-all-night culture takes a toll on the heart. Over the years numerous studies have shown that people who work long hours at a desk job, sit for long hours on planes, or watch a lot of TV, have a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. Luckily even simple movements can make a difference.
Protect yourself: Get up for 10 minutes every hour and move around. Stand up while taking phone calls. Walk down the hall to communicate with co-workers rather than emailing. By making movement — and better yet regular aerobic or core exercise — part of your daily routine, you'll help to counter the effects of "chair disease."
9 / 9 Skimping on Sleep Raises Heart Risks
Getting five or fewer hours of sleep a night more than doubles the danger of developing an increased risk for coronary calcium, an indicator of the amount of atherosclerotic plaque that is building up (or not) in the arteries of your heart. The more plaque you have, the greater your risk for heart attack, stroke, and even sudden death.
Protect yourself: Make an effort to regularly get 8 hours of sleep a night and maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule, even on weekends. If you other have risk factors for heart disease, then getting a CT scan of your heart to determine your Calcium Score, which is calculated on the amount of plaque buildup you have for your age, could be warranted. more