Beyond Red: Exploring Lesser-Known Factors in Heart Health

Heart Health
12 Feb, 2024

Heart disease has been one of the major cause of death in the United States, driving researchers to explore novel prevention strategies beyond the well-known advice of a healthy diet and regular exercise. High blood pressure, smoking, elevated cholesterol, and obesity are commonly recognized risk factors.

There's a growing realization that some unconventional elements may also play a significant role in heart health. Surprisingly, conditions like gout, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis have emerged as potential contributors to heart disease, linked by their association with chronic inflammation.

In fact, there's a paradigm shift underway among scientists who are beginning to view cardiovascular disease not just as a condition of the heart but as a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the arteries—an idea often referred to as the inflammatory hypothesis of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).

At the core of this hypothesis lies atherosclerosis, the process where fatty plaques accumulate within artery walls, leading to arterial stiffness. This buildup, particularly in the arteries supplying oxygenated blood to the heart, manifests as coronary artery disease.

As researchers dive deeper into the inflammatory aspects of heart health, understanding these unconventional risk factors could revolutionize how we approach heart disease prevention and management.

7 Factors that Contribute to a Balanced Heart Health

1. Activity Level

Sitting for extended periods, whether at work or during leisure time, can pose risks to heart health. Both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology caution against prolonged sitting, highlighting its contribution to heart disease.

Incorporating regular movement breaks throughout the day, such as stretching or taking short walks, can mitigate these risks and contribute to meeting recommended activity levels. Exercise not only benefits heart health but also helps in stress reduction and promotes better sleep, making it a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle.

2. Work Environment

Research into workplace stress has uncovered intriguing connections to heart health. A Swedish study spanning a decade found a higher risk of heart attacks among individuals with unsupportive supervisors.

Additionally, prolonged work hours have been associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Stress, in general, poses significant health risks, spiking cortisol levels and potentially leading to high blood pressure, weight gain, disrupted sleep, and decreased energy levels.

Prioritize stress management by finding ways to unwind after work, whether through relaxation techniques or engaging in activities you enjoy. While challenging work situations may be unavoidable, implementing coping strategies can foster resilience and mitigate their impact on heart health.

3. Furry Companions

In addition to providing companionship, owning pets, particularly dogs, has been linked to improved heart health. According to research, dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, likely attributed to the daily exercise and the calming effect of canine companionship.

While adopting a pet solely for health reasons isn't advised, interacting with animals, even briefly, can have beneficial effects. Several studies have demonstrated that simply petting a dog can lower blood pressure and promote relaxation.

4. Sleeping Patterns

Quality sleep is highly crucial for overall health, including heart health. During sleep, the heart undergoes crucial recovery processes, and inadequate sleep has been associated with increased risk of heart attack and heart disease.

Establishing a bedtime routine, maintaining a conducive sleep area, and limiting screen time before bed can aid in achieving restful sleep. If sleep troubles persist, consulting with a healthcare professional is recommended to address underlying issues and explore appropriate interventions.

5. Dental Care

Beyond giving you a dazzling smile, maintaining good oral hygiene may also benefit your heart health. Numerous studies have highlighted a correlation between poor dental health and heart disease. While the exact mechanism remains uncertain, prevailing theories point towards inflammation as a possible link.

It's hypothesized that bacteria from gum infections could enter the bloodstream, triggering inflammation in blood vessels, or that the body's immune response to oral bacteria may contribute. While further research is warranted, it underscores the importance of adhering to recommended dental care practices: brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day and scheduling regular dental checkups.

6. Morning Routine

Start your day off right by prioritizing a heart-healthy breakfast. Research suggests that breakfast-eaters are less likely to develop heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Incorporating whole grains into your morning meal can further reduce cardiovascular risk. Quick and easy breakfast ideas can help you fuel your day while supporting heart health.

7. Attitude toward Life

Maintaining a positive outlook on life may offer protective benefits against cardiovascular disease. Studies have suggested that optimism is associated with healthier lifestyle choices following a heart attack and lower levels of inflammation. Cultivating gratitude and optimism can contribute to overall heart health and well-being.

What are the Best Eating Habits that Promotes Heart Health?

Promoting heart health through dietary choices is a cornerstone of preventive care. A balanced and varied diet not only supports overall well-being but also helps in reducing the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease.

According to recommendations from the Heart Foundation, adopting a heart-healthy eating pattern involves incorporating a diverse range of nutritious foods:

  • Emphasize Plant-Based Foods: Consume abundant quantities of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. These nutrient-rich foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, contributing to heart health
  • Opt for Healthy Protein Sources: Prioritize lean sources of protein, such as fish, seafood, legumes (e.g., beans and lentils), nuts, and seeds. Enjoy eggs and poultry in moderation as part of a heart-healthy diet. If opting for red meat, choose lean cuts and limit intake to one to three times per week
  • Choose Low-Fat Dairy: Select unflavored varieties of milk, yogurt, and cheese. For individuals with heart disease or high cholesterol, opt for reduced-fat options to manage lipid levels effectively
  • Incorporate Healthy Fats: Eat healthy fats and oils in your diet, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and their respective oils. These fats contribute to cardiovascular health and can be used for cooking or as additions to meals
  • Enhance Flavor with Herbs and Spices: Instead of relying on salt for flavoring, experiment with herbs and spices to season foods. This not only adds variety and depth to dishes but also helps reduce sodium intake, supporting heart health

Bottom Line

Upon closer examination, these unconventional risk factors don't appear as unexpected. Rather, they align closely with fundamental heart-healthy lifestyle practices like stress management, maintaining a nutritious diet, and engaging in regular physical activity. These factors underscore the significance of primary healthcare services in promoting holistic approaches to heart health.