When someone realizes I’m a cardiologist, some of the most frequent questions I get are about whether different everyday activities are harmful to the heart. In some cases, the answers are exactly what the person would expect—for instance you shouldn’t be overweight. But some of the other answers surprise people. Maybe they will surprise you, too.
So, here are five things you should avoid, at least most of the time:
1. Smoking: Not only does this addiction precipitate lung and pancreatic cancer, smoking can cause heart disease and a three-fold increase in age-related macular degeneration (AMD, the leading cause of blindness). The lethal chemicals in cigarettes (and marijuana) can precipitate coronary arterty spasm, as well life-threatening arrhythmias that all too often result in sudden cardiac death. If you smoke, do everything you can to stop.
2. Eating Trans-Fats: These killer fats are associated with increased free radical damage, which in turn causes inflammation, disease, and age-related changes. They also promote LDL oxidation, lower HDL levels, and raise Lp(a), a highly inflammatory and thrombotic cholesterol particle. In short, they ignite heart disease and help set the inflammatory stage for other diseases. As if that’s not enough, they also interfere with your body’s ability to process and utilize the good, essential fatty acids—such as fish oil—that function as anti-inflammatory agents. The bottom line is avoid trans-fats like the plague.
3. Exercising While Angry: You periodically hear about someone who exercised while angry and then dropped dead of a heart attack. Not only can anger drive up your blood pressure, exercising while angry is like driving a car with the brakes on—it drives up your blood pressure even more. So, if you’re angry cool down before exercising.
4. Stifling Sadness: Crying is a great release, it heals the heart. So don’t stifle that emotion. Crying will release the heartbreak that most all of us have. If, like me, you don’t cry easily, then try watching a movie that may “move you to tears”. (For me, it’s “Hoosiers”)
5. Denying that Something’s Wrong: I can’t tell you how many people develop chest pain, arm pain, sweats, or a feeling of impending doom—all signs of a heart attack—but deny that anything’s wrong. If you feel any of these symptoms get treated right away. It could save your life!
Now it’s your turn: Have you found any of these things to be true in your life?
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