How Your Habits May Be Unknowingly Damaging Your Heart Health

by Robert Parmer

February is National Heart Month, which makes these next few weeks an excellent time of year to really analyze the ways your habits may be damaging the long-term health of your heart. Many people don't realize the severity of cardiovascular health in America, and that is a potentially fatal error.

About 610,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, which is equal to one in four deaths in our country. Heart-related issues are the main cause of death in the United States.

Heart Health: Addressing The Issues

Understanding the most common heart disorders is the first step. It's essential to take the time to ask ourselves, "What elements of our lives may be causing heart problems?"

The most common pitfall to heart health is coronary heart disease. CHD is damaging because it occurs when the arterial walls are built up with plaque. This is typically due to unhealthy eating habits, but genetics are also a factor.

Treatment is vitally important if CHD arises. If left untreated, the outcome can be fatal.

Sadly, unhealthy American diets are a major cause of heart problems. Overconsumption and the conveniences of fast food are major risks, especially when consumed regularly and over long periods of time.

We microwave our processed lunches often, and we live for massively over-the-top indulgences. Additionally, we often find ourselves distracted by newfound health crises, and we place the real issues — such as cardiovascular health — on the back burner.

Aside from potentially harmful eating habits, other risk factors also certainly exist. It's crucial that we recognize that having even just one risk factor can greatly increase the chances of a person developing heart disease.

Some of these factors include the following:

- Heart disease in family history

- Inflammation of the blood vessels

- Diabetes

- High or low blood pressure

- Unhealthy weight

- High cholesterol

- Alcoholism

- Smoking

When it comes to health goals, effective planning goes a long way. A great starting point is developing a list of heart-friendly foods.

Begin by identifying several of the options that also sound appetizing to you. Stick to eating these foods regularly, and aim for longevity.

Sure, healthy fats do exist, and they may even benefit heart health. But, unhealthy fats are a main point of concern in terms of cardiovascular health.

Trans fats and unhealthy saturated fats are extremely dangerous when over-consumed. The American diet is often times composed of excessive amounts of meat, salt and sugar. These are all specific overconsumption tendencies that are damaging to the heart.

Recent research posted on Cleveland Clinic shows that there are new reasons why eating excessive amounts of red meat is damaging to the heart:

Researchers have found that when we eat red meat, there is a set of reactions mediated by microbes in our gut. These gut microbe reactions are triggered by carnitine, a nutrient found in red meat. The study found that these reactions, which were previously unrecognized, contribute to the development of heart disease [...] Deciding whether or not to eat red meat is a very personal choice, Dr. Hazen says, 'These studies do offer some powerful reasons to consider dropping or limiting red meat. It's important to talk to your doctor. He or she can advise you, based on your personal health history and individual heart disease risk.'

Consuming too much alcohol is also linked to some heart health issues. While a plethora of studies suggest a small amount of alcohol may be good for your heart, the fact remains that the average, everyday drinker usually doesn't hold him- or herself to one drink per day. Long-term, excessive drinking is substantially damaging to the heart.

So, now that you know what to avoid, you can start taking preventative measures for heart health through proper meal planning and an emphasis on foods that are good for the heart.

Superfoods That Are Hearty Healthy

Superfoods greatly increase the longevity of the heart. The following foods boost cardiovascular health:

- A study of thousands of people who drank three to six cups of tea a day found that these people were roughly 50 percent less likely to develop fatal heart diseases. Drinking antioxidant tea can lead to a healthier heart.

- An abundant supply of omega-3s and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) make chia, flax and hemp seeds healthy choices for your heart. They are great in yogurts and smoothies and sprinkled on salads and casseroles.

- Oatmeal can help lower bad cholesterol.

- Heart healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats are important. Reach for quinoa, avocados and coconut oil, as they are all full of healthy fats.

- Oily fish is a smart protein source because the high levels of omega-3s help protect the heart.

- The lycopene and antioxidants in tomatoes are your heart's best friends.

- The high anthocyanin content in blueberries aid in removing the buildup of plaque in the arterial walls.

- Vitamin K can aid in reversing heart disease. Fortunately, leafy greens like chard, spinach, collard greens and kale are full of the vitamins A, C and K.

Regular exercise should be held "close to the heart."

Exercise needs to be regularly including in day-to-day life in order to keep the heart pumping like it should. Physical activity recommendations for adults are highlighted by the American Heart Association:

To improve overall cardiovascular health, we suggest at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). Thirty minutes a day, five times a week is an easy goal to remember. You will also experience benefits if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day.

Keep cardiovascular health on the front lines of your mind this month, and start using these guidelines to develop robust, lifelong habits. Awareness, sufficient dieting and regular exercise will keep your heart in tip-top shape. Remember: Prevention is the best medicine.