5 surprising ways you may be damaging your heart


In this article:

  • Even though you may think you have a healthy lifestyle, some habits may actually be detrimental to your cardiovascular system.

  • Sleep habits, oral hygiene, and mental health can all play a major role in your heart health.

  • A Providence cardiologist explains that it’s possible to over-exercise.

You make sure your plate is always well-balanced, with whole grains, lean meats and plenty of fruits and vegetables. You get out for a walk every day and hit the gym three to four times a week. You avoid smoking and tobacco products. You often skip the salt.

All of these practices point to a heart-healthy lifestyle, but you may still have a few habits that could be undoing your healthy hard work. Not to worry – with a few changes you can fully optimize your healthy habits!

Read on to learn about which routines may be damaging your heart.

1. Not getting enough sleep

Sleep plays a vital role in our well-being, including the health of our hearts. A study conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) showed that a lack of sleep can increase risk for high blood pressure, which can weaken blood vessels and lead to heart disease.

Not getting enough sleep can also slow down your metabolism, which can make it harder to lose weight. Being overweight is another risk factor for heart disease. Plus, sleep-deprived people are less likely to have the energy to spend on heart-healthy exercise.

The amount of sleep someone needs varies from person to person, but the AHA recommends most adults get between six and eight hours of sleep each night.

2. Drinking too much alcohol

It doesn’t matter if you eat a heart-healthy diet—drinking too much alcohol can significantly increase your risk for heart disease because it increases your blood pressure.

Heavy drinking can also increase the amount of fat in the blood (triglycerides), and too much of this fat can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Over time, this plaque can reduce blood flow and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

How much is too much? The AHA recommends men have no more than one to two drinks per day and women have no more than one drink a day. A drink is four ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or one-and-a-half ounces of liquor.

3. Not brushing your teeth

Although researchers are still looking for a direct link, studies have shown that poor dental health may translate to poor heart health.

Daily flossing and brushing help prevent gum disease that causes painful bacterial infections in your gums. Research shows that these same bacteria can also cause your blood vessels and arteries to become inflamed or narrowed, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

Doctors also believe that if you take care of your teeth, you’re more likely to maintain other heart-healthy habits like exercising and eating a well-balanced diet.

4. Stressing too much

The effects of stress can be felt throughout the body, whether it’s stomach pains, a headache or sore muscles. Although you may not feel it right away, stress can also negatively affect your heart.

When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones (adrenaline) that increase your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. While this may not cause short-term damage, having consistently high blood pressure can increase risk for heart disease.

Stress can also lead to heavy drinking, lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise, all of which can negatively affect your heart.

To fight the effects of stress, try activities like yoga, deep breathing exercises, meditation or regular walks.

5. Overdoing your endurance exercise

While regular endurance exercise can be good for your heart health, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Some studies have shown that long-term, excessive endurance exercise may damage the heart and arteries.

Regularly competing in marathons, ultramarathons and long-distance triathlons can stress the heart muscle too much, and for some people, this can lead to scarring and thickening of the heart walls. When this happens, you’re more at risk for heart rhythm problems and heart disease. 

In many cases, it’s safe to participate in endurance exercise, but be sure to exercise safely and pay attention to your body. If you experience consistent chest pain, shortness of breath or dizziness, stop exercising and talk to your doctor. It’s also important to know your family history of heart disease and always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Find a doctor

If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory to find the right Providence physician for you. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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Related resources

3 ways to lower blood pressure – beyond diet and exercise

White meat vs. red meat – the truth about cholesterol

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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