Heart disease is more common than you might think. The sad truth is that nearly half of American adults have some type of heart disease, as per one 2019 study. About 805,000 Americans suffer a heart attack every year. The term 'heart disease' is used to describe a number of different conditions that affect the cardiovascular system.
Heart disease or any disease of the arteries interferes with the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body and deliver the necessary nutrients and oxygen to the different organs. Four essential parts of the heart can be affected by different diseases: the arteries, muscles, valves, and the electrical system of the heart.
The good news is that heart health is directly affected by our everyday habits. Moreover, the risk factors are largely preventable by adding healthy behaviors to your life. Take a look at 7 lesser-known facts about heart disease.
Related: A Guide to Cardiovascular Disease
1. Women are more likely to get heart disease
Contrary to what many people think, more women than men are affected by heart disease. A study published in the journal Circulation in 2018 looked at patients hospitalized for a heart attack and found that the percentage of younger people (between the ages of 35-54) increased from 27 percent to 32 percent between the late 1990s to the early 2010s. The increase was more significant for younger women, who made up 21 percent of the total in 1990-1999 and 31 percent in 2010-2014.
Moreover, a 2020 study found that women were at a greater risk of dying and developing heart failure five years after a heart attack. It’s important to note that there may be a subtle difference in heart attack symptoms in women and men. As with men, the most common symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely to experience other less common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
2. A flu shot can be protective against a heart attack
Contracting the flu can result in severe complications for those with chronic heart conditions and heart disease, according to the CDC. Several studies have found that individuals with heart disease are 6 to 10 times more likely to suffer a heart attack after contracting the flu.
A recent analysis shows that getting the flu shot greatly reduces the risk of developing heart-related complications. “An annual flu vaccine is [...] an essential preventive management tool for those at higher risk of heart disease and stroke,” said cardiologist Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum.
Related: Dark Chocolate Can Be Beneficial for Heart Health
3. Heart attacks are more common at a certain time
Did you know that there are certain times in the year, days of the week, and even hours of the day when one is more likely to get a heart attack? There is a common belief that the morning is the most likely time for a sudden cardiac arrest, but a 2019 study observed that it is not the case.
So what are the peak times for a heart attack? Major holidays are the first on the list, probably because people are prone to overindulge in salty and fatty foods, drink more alcohol, and sleep less during the holidays. Other peak times include major sporting events, as well as Mondays - the day of the week when stress levels are likely to rise after a relaxing weekend. Disruption in our normal circadian rhythms (like time zone changes) can also have an adverse effect on blood pressure.
4. Poor sleep significantly contributes to poor heart health
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Besides reducing stress, improving mood, and increasing the overall performance of your daily tasks, proper sleep habits are also essential for heart health.
Good quality sleep decreases the work of your heart, as blood pressure and heart rate go down at night. When you are sleep-deprived, your heart rate stays elevated for longer periods of time instead of fluctuating normally. Shortened periods of sleep can also increase C-reactive protein (CRP) levels - a protein released with stress and inflammation. High CRP is a risk factor for cardiovascular and heart disease.
5. Want to promote good heart health? Try racket sports
One study published by the BML in 2016 found that racket sports (such as tennis) are associated with the most significant reduction in cardiovascular death risk - 51 percent. It’s probably due to the fact that these types of sports engage the whole body. Other sports mentioned in the study were swimming (which lowers the risk by 41 percent) and aerobics (36 percent).
However, experts note that any type of exercise will strengthen the heart. The important thing is that you choose the one you’re most likely to stick with. According to Dr. Steinbaum, consistency and regularity is the most important part. The recommended amount is at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both.
Related: Not Just Cardio: 6 Activities That Boost Heart Health
6. Social interaction can help ward off heart disease
The forced isolation brought on by the Covid-19 restrictions shone a light on the impact of loneliness on our physical health. Studies have shown a clear link between social isolation and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke due to both a lack of self-care and an increase in stress hormones. Mental health, in general, can contribute to up to 30 percent of your overall heart risk.
Those who are engaged socially more often are also more likely to get involved in activities that get them moving. One step that could help with both loneliness and physical activity is getting a furry friend. To learn more about the ways dogs can improve your health, read our previous article Study Finds Owning a Dog Boosts Longevity.
7. The link between optimism and heart health
A 2019 meta-analysis published by JAMA Network Open found a link between a generally positive outlook on life and a 35 percent reduction in heart disease risk. This seems natural considering that optimism is related to overall mental stability.
“The data that shows the power of a five to 10-minute practice of gratitude or mindfulness on changing the ‘neuroplasticity’ of our brain is amazing,” said Dr. Courtney Jordan Baechler, medical director of Emerging Science Centers at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. This means that we can actually ‘train’ our brains to be more optimistic, which is great news. We can actively lower blood pressure and improve our heart function through these practices.
Share this important information with family and friends