The Benefits of Picking Up Good Heart Habits
July 3, 2014

The Benefits of Picking Up Good Heart Habits

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in America. Whether these diseases come in the forms of blood clots, strokes, aneurisms, heart attacks, or other coronary diseases, they kill more Americans than anything else right now. However, redOrbit recently published news that we should all take to heart; pun definitely intended. According to the redOrbit article, a team of researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that those who stop bad heart habits and start good ones decrease their risk of heart disease later in life.

Bad heart habits include overeating, smoking, living a sedentary lifestyle, imbibing too much alcohol, and not eating a healthy diet. On the contrary, good heart habits include maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, exercising regularly, drinking small to no amounts of alcohol, and eating a heart healthy diet. The study found that those who picked up good heart habits in their 30s and 40s can control and possibly undo heart damage. Similarly, those who picked up bad heart habits in their 30s and 40s increased the damage to their hearts. Here is what the researchers did to find these according to redOrbit:

“The study authors looked at 5,000 patients who were enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. They examined five different types of healthy behaviors –not being overweight or obese, consuming low amounts of alcohol, maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active and being a non-smoker –in each, as well as coronary artery calcification and thickening among each of the participants.

Each subject was assessed at baseline, when they were between the ages of 18 and 30, and again 20 years later. At the beginning of the study, less than 10 percent of CARDIA participants said they engaged in all five healthy lifestyle behaviors. Two decades later, about 25 percent of them had added at least one additional healthy behavior.”

What they found further is that the more good heart habits subjects acquired “reduced odds of two major markers that can predict future cardiovascular events –detectable coronary artery calcification and lower intima-media thickness.” These findings debunked two commonly (but often wrong) held medical beliefs: 1) that people do not change bad habits; and 2) that the heart damage is already done and permanent.

What this study shows is that it is never too late to improve our heart health. If we pick up good heart habits while in our 30s and 40s, we will even improve our heart health, decrease our chances of heart disease, and increase our lifestyles. Changing our habits can be difficult, but it is well worth it as shown by this Northwestern University study.

The five good heart habits are the following:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight
  2. Eat a healthy diet
  3. Don’t smoke
  4. Drink alcohol only minimally
  5. Exercise regularly

Instead of trying to change all five habits at once, we should start with just one. As soon as we incorporate that first one into our lifestyles, then we should start working on incorporating another and then another until all five are a part of our daily lives. It will take time, but the sooner we start, the better our hearts will be.

I am particularly concerned with heart disease. My daddy died from a heart attack. His daddy died from a heart attack. My mom’s daddy had two heart attacks and several strokes, which ultimately took his life. I have a blood clotting disorder. Heart disease is always on my mind. As soon as I learned of the full extent of my heart history, I changed my lifestyle. I do all of these five to the best of my abilities. Some days I do not get all of them in, but more often than not, these five are a part of my life. I do these not because I want to look good. I want to live a happy, healthy life, and my family history says that life likely will not be long, so I want to make sure that my heart does not suffer from external influences since it likely has genetic ones with which to contend.

But I should not be the only one with such concerns. As Americans, heart disease kills more of us than any other disease, issue, accident, or disorder. We should all be concerned with our heart health, and we should all be working to support our hearts not damage them. This study shows that we can do that at any time by simply adding more good heart habits. Yes, it may be trying, but that effort will pay out with a healthy life. Aren’t we all worth that?

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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