5 Habits That Hurt Your Heart

Want to live a longer, healthier life? Start today by adding a half cup of blueberries to a serving of yogurt while having breakfast with your spouse after a full night's rest. Of course, that might be easy to manage once, but what you really need to do is replace a lifetime of bad behaviors with the heart-healthy choices embodied in that seemingly simple breakfast.

The first step is identifying bad habits that are interfering with your cardiovascular health. Here are some of the most common:

Habit 1: Skipping the veggies and fruits

From fried chicken to cheesecake, doctors are often quick to list the foods you should NOT eat to maintain a healthy heart. The problem: people often replace those bad foods with processed lowfat, low cholesterol options and carbohydrates instead of nutritious vegetables and fruits. According to a major study known as INTERHEART, following a diet rich in fruits and vegetables might lower your risk of heart attack by thirty percent. In addition to providing more nutrients, eating more fruits and vegetables can help you maintain a low body-mass index, which also lowers the risk of heart disease.

Habit 2: Avoiding the dentist

Poor oral hygiene has been linked to heart disease. Brushing and flossing on your own is important. But regular visits to your dentist's office are also essential. In fact, a professional cleaning once a year seems to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Habit 3: Burning the midnight oil

A lack of sleep can play havoc with your body in many ways including cardiovascular health. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that when you continually sleep five or fewer hours at night calcium can build up in your heart arteries. This results in plaque that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Habit 4: Not getting enough milk

For a long time, milk had a bad reputation when it came to cardiovascular health. High in saturated fat, which is associated with cardiovascular disease, foods containing milk fat were considered taboo to those seeking a healthy heart. But recent research is causing doctors and nutritionists to rethink that assumption. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 showed that women who consumed high amounts of dairy products with milk fat were 26 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack than those who regularly ate little or no milk fat. For men who ate high amounts of dairy, the risk was reduced by nine percent.

Habit 5: Being a loner

Several studies over the past decade have strengthened the belief that having strong social ties can protect you against heart disease and improve your overall health. There are a few different theories behind the research. Some say that the joy that comes from marriage or family and friends is the key. Others believe that our nearest and dearest exert a kind of peer pressure on us to live healthier, stop smoking, and end all those other bad habits that weaken our heart.

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"Professional dental cleanings may reduce risk of heart attack, stroke." American Heart Association. Web. November 28, 2011.

Wang, Y. , et al. "Lifestyle Factors in Relation to Heart Failure Among Finnish Men and Women." Circulation: Heart Failure 111.962589 (2011). Web. November 25, 2011.

Warensjö, Eva. "Biomarkers of milk fat and the risk of myocardial infarction..." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 10.3945 (2010)  Web. November 25, 2011.