With new year health routines well underway across the country, Americans are taking stock of which habits to keep and which ones to cut. February is Heart Health Month, so why not factor in these fun facts about which lifestyle habits will keep your heart in top shape?
Now is the perfect time to take a look at some of the latest findings and take them to heart! After all, heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans for both men and women, and a new report shows that there are 200 medicines in development aiming to help reduce heart disease and stroke.
Here are just a few things to keep and a few things to cut to keep your heart happy during Heart Health Month and beyond!
Biking to Work
Not only does biking evoke a sense of freedom and fun, it’s also good for your heart. A study of thousands of UK residents found commuting to work on a bicycle was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. In fact, it cut the risk of death from heart disease by 46 percent. Even given the traffic risks associated with biking, the study confirms that the benefits of biking to work outweigh the risks. Follow these quick tips from the Harvard Health Blog for how to start biking to work while staying safe and healthy.
Our furry friends make us laugh and provide companionship. But did you know they might also be good for your heart? A recent study found that, among those who lived alone, dog ownership cut the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by a stunning 36 percent. Researchers reported that companionship from the pets may reduce stress and motivate people to live healthier lifestyles. Among people who lived in a household with more people, researchers found that dogs provided an 15 percent reduction in chance of death by cardiovascular disease.
The old dieting mantra used to go like this: avoid full-fat dairy and cheese because they contain saturated fats. Researchers are finally “calling baloney” on the no-cheese mantra. A broad analysis of dozens of other studies found that not only do cheese and full-fat milk not increase the risk of heart-attack or stroke, young women who consume too little calcium could be putting their health at risk.
Another study found that people who ate cheese regularly actually lowered their risk of coronary heart disease by 14 percent and their risk of stroke by 10 percent. But don’t go on a cheese binge. Even diets that include cheese should still aim to reduce saturated fat intake overall.
Negativity and Stress
It can’t be said enough: stress is bad for your health -- your heart most of all. Stress can cause high blood pressure and inflammation that strains the heart and could lead to a stroke or heart attack. So how do you combat that? Meditation and yoga can help train the brain to stop stress before it spins out of control, and your immune system may get a further boost from surrounding yourself with positivity. Check out the eight skills, developed by researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, for bringing positive thinking to even the most challenging situation.
Loaded with sugar and packed with caffeine, energy drinks pack a cardiovascular punch that is quite literally heart-pounding. Containing as much caffeine as up to five cups of coffee, just one energy drink can raise blood pressure, increase heart electrical activity, increase stress hormones and cause an irregular heartbeat. In healthy people, these symptoms aren’t necessarily a problem, but for those with heart conditions they could be harmful. It’s best to avoid them as part of a heart healthy diet.
Many things about sleep remain a mystery to researchers, but we know a few things for sure. Chronic sleep deprivation, or regularly getting too little sleep, can be bad for your heart. Did you know that irregular sleep, such as sleeping late on the weekends, can also be harmful to your health? Going to bed later and sleeping later on weekends can make you feel more tired through an effect called “social jet lag.” Research suggests it may even be associated with an 11 percent higher risk of heart disease for every hour your sleep schedule shifts later on the weekends. Aim for at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep per night on a regular schedule.
Of course, a healthy diet and regular exercise should be a part of any heart health plan. To that end, check out what else you can do to take care of your heart this February. And as always, keep taking your medicines as prescribed!
If you or someone you love struggles with affordable access to medicines, there are resources available that may be able to help: The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) helps connect patients with patient assistance programs that provide free or nearly free prescription medicines. For more information, visit www.pparx.org.