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7 Unusual Heart Health Risk Factors

Couple walking dog

What Science is Revealing About Heart Health

Researchers are working hard to curb the impact of heart disease, which is currently the leading cause of death in the United States. These efforts to develop new prevention strategies have led them to some surprising heart health hypotheses. You probably know that you should eat well and stay active, but these lesser-known risk factors may not be on your radar. Here are seven unconventional ways to support your heart that have sparked the interest of leading health experts. 

Your Oral Health

It turns out, brushing your teeth may have more benefits than just sparkly whites and fresh breath. Numerous studies have documented a link between poor dental health and heart disease. The verdict is still out as to why, but the prevailing theories point to inflammation. It could be that the bacteria which infect gums enter the bloodstream and cause blood vessel inflammation or that the body’s immune response is to blame. While more research is needed, it’s one more reason to brush your teeth for the recommended two minutes twice a day and get regular dental checkups. 

Your Job Satisfaction

There have been some interesting studies exploring the connection between workplace stress and heart health. A decade-long study in Sweden found that having a bad boss increases your risk of a heart attack. Additional research has suggested that working long hours may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

A key takeaway here is that stress, in general, isn’t great for your overall health. Stress causes your cortisol levels to spike, which can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, sleep disruption, and reduced energy over time. Not to mention, your diet, exercise routine, and other healthy habits often suffer when you’re stressed out. Make sure to find ways to unwind at the end of your workday, whether that means listening to a relaxing soundtrack on your drive home or a brief meditation before you make dinner. Sometimes you can’t avoid challenging coworkers or chaotic days, but you can put strategies in place to help you feel calmer and more resilient. 

Your Pets

Not that you needed another reason to love your pets, but several studies have shown that pet ownership, especially having a dog, can improve heart health. According to Harvard Health, researchers have found that dog owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol than non-owners, probably because dogs require daily walks and tend to have a calming effect on their humans. 

If you’re not a dog owner, we don’t advise adding pets to your life purely as a health strategy. Instead, you might consider stopping to meet some of your four-legged neighbors. A few studies have found that just petting a dog can lower your blood pressure. 

Your Sleep Habits 

Sleep is the unsung hero of the health world. It allows your whole body to rest and replenish. Although your heart never stops beating, it does slow down and recover during sleep. According to John Hopkins Medicine, by depriving your heart of this crucial recovery time, lack of sleep increases your risk of heart attack and heart disease.

If you have trouble sleeping, creating a nightly ritual can help. Try to wind down at the same time every evening and create a calm, dark, and quiet environment in your bedroom. You should turn off your electronic devices at least thirty minutes before bedtime to help your body prepare for restful sleep. 

If you find yourself tossing and turning on the regular, it’s best to talk with your doctor. Various underlying and unsuspecting conditions could be causing your lack of sleep and there are many different therapies that can help.  

For more sleep-enhancing tips, read, “Too Stressed to Sleep? These Strategies Can Help.”

Your Breakfast (or Lack Thereof) 

Bring on the oatmeal and scrambled eggs! When a panel of experts from the American Heart Association reviewed studies on eating habits and heart health, they formed an intriguing conclusion: breakfast-eaters tended to have lower instances of heart disease and were less likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

If you struggle to make time to eat in the morning, the American Heart Association suggests these breakfast hacks for some quick and easy meal ideas. Harvard Health recommends including whole grains in your morning meal to further reduce your risk for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. They offer this menu of options full of whole grains, protein, and fruit. 

Your Downtime

We all love a good movie marathon, but regularly sitting for hours at a stretch could be putting your heart at risk. And yes, that includes long workdays at the computer. 

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have both warned that regularly sitting for long periods is a significant contributor to heart disease. It’s not an issue of laziness—in a world full of deskjobs, car trips, and the all-important need to unwind, many of us struggle to find time to get the consistent movement our bodies need.

If you’re stuck sitting for long periods, the American Heart Association suggests finding ways to sneak movement into your day. You might try setting a timer and taking a five-minute stretch break every hour or using your lunch break to go for a walk. Every extra minute on your feet will help you get to the recommended 150 minutes of activity per week. Exercise also helps you reduce stress and sleep better, making it a true heart-health allstar. 

Your Outlook on Life

Several studies suggest an association between optimism and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2015 study found that those with a more positive outlook were more likely to make healthy lifestyle changes after a heart attack. And a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, found that patients with a greater sense of gratitude had lower levels of inflammation and better heart health overall.

Robert A Emmons, PH.D.

Robert A Emmons, PH.D.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, told the American Heart Association, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure and improve immune function...grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol and have higher rates of medication adherence.”

If optimism doesn’t always come easy to you, you’re not alone. Psychologists believe we have a natural tendency to fixate on negative information as a way to avoid it in the future. It’s a phenomenon known as “negativity bias.” Practicing gratitude is a powerful way to counteract this inclination. Best of all, it’s easy to get started. Your new habit can be as simple as writing down what you’re grateful for every day. 

The Bottom Line

When you look closely, these unconventional risk factors aren’t really that surprising. They each relate to foundational heart-healthy lifestyle choices such as managing stress, eating healthy foods, and staying active. This advice aligns with the CDC’s guidance, which outlines six essential strategies for living a heart-healthy lifestyle. 

If you’re concerned about your heart, the CDC recommends learning about your family’s health history and talking to your healthcare provider about your risk. Together you can create an action plan that’s best for you. If your doctor prescribes medication to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, the CDC stresses the importance of taking it as directed. 

Alto’s expert pharmacists will always be on call to answer questions about dosage instructions or side effects, and we’d be happy to bring your medications to your doorstep for free. Your heart-healthy lifestyle does not have to include standing in line at the pharmacy or worrying about refills. We’ll take care of the details so you can focus on cooking a healthy breakfast or walking your dog. 

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.