We all know that for optimum heart health we need to eat a healthy diet, exercise and not smoke. But little things you do every day can also have a big impact on the most important muscle in your body. Are you guilty of any of these seemingly innocent mistakes?
1. You fly off the handle. Do you suffer from regular bouts of rage or intense anger at home, at work or in traffic? If so, your angry temperament may be hurting more than the people around you. While moderate anger can be a good way to release tension, explosive anger or chronic bouts of rage can increase your risk of heart disease. Anger and anxiety have been shown to increase blood pressure, disrupt the electrical impulses of the heart and possibly speed up the process of atherosclerosis, a fatty build up in the arteries.
2. You sleep too much (or too little). Getting fewer than five—or more than nine—hours of sleep a night can hurt your heart because both extremes elevate blood pressure and levels of stress hormones. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study of more than 71,000 women, ages 45 to 65, found that sleeping five or fewer hours each night increased the risk of coronary disease by a whopping 45%. Those who regularly slept nine or more hours had a 38% greater risk than those who slept eight hours—even after taking snoring and smoking in account.
3. You don’t floss regularly. You may think that regular flossing just helps keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape, but research shows that dental disease and cardiac health are correlated. Researchers believe that inflammation from gum disease allows bacteria to enter your mouth’s blood vessels, travel into the coronary artery vessels, and narrow their passages. This reduces blood flow, which hurts the heart. In fact, people with coronary artery disease are 38% more likely to also have gum disease. While research is still being done in this area, it’s best to keep that mouth healthy!
4. You see the glass as half empty. Looking on the bright side isn’t just about improving your mental state; it’s also a boon to your heart. In a groundbreaking 2009 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers found that not only did optimism seem to protect against heart disease and death but also that pessimism seemed to increase the risk. Pessimists were more likely than optimists to have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and suffer from depression (which has also been linked to poor heart health). Cynics are also more likely to be overweight, smoke and avoid exercise. All reason to start focusing on what’s good in life, right?
5. You think secondhand smoke is no big deal. While the association between tobacco use and heart disease is undeniable, did you know that secondhand smoke also harm your heart? Constant exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace or at home nearly doubles a person’s risk of having a heart attack.
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Could you use a little extra incentive to shape up? How does one million dollars sound?
The health website Sharecare has partnered with Dr. Oz and Weight Watchers to launch “Transformation Nation: Million Dollar You,” a wellness-promoting program that seeks to inspire participants to change their lives by improving their health behaviors. Everyone can sign up to participate, and after a narrowing of the field, viewers will be able to vote online for the most inspiring transformation story. That individual will not only gain better health, but will also score a sizable sum of money!
The program officially launched late last month, but you can sign up until April. “Three hundred thousand people have already signed up, and there’s really no reason not to. Everyone wins who participates—by improving their health—and one person will win one million dollars,” says Dawn Whaley, co-president of Sharecare.
Out of every entry, the top 200 transformation stories will be selected. Dr. Oz and his team will then narrow the field to 50 based on participant essays, health experts will choose the top 10 most inspirational and finally viewers will be able to vote online for the million dollar winner!
By following these seven steps, one of which is highlighted each month on an episode of The Dr. Oz Show, the health experts involved with the program say you can lengthen your lifespan and decrease your risk for many diseases.
- Tell a friend
- Official weigh-in/calculate your BMI
- Connect with your doctor
- Learn your family’s health history
- Get more sleep
- Assess your stress
- Start new fitness habits
Appropriately for Oz, the next topic up for discussion (on his show tomorrow—find your local station and air time here) is “connect with your doctor.” He’ll explain three numbers that you need to keep tabs on with your doc to monitor your overall health.
Now tell us: What motivates you to lead a healthy lifestyle?
Bob Greene is best known for helping teach Oprah how to live her “Best Life.” Now he’s sharing what he learned then, and through extensive research since, to help the rest of us live younger, healthier lives. His new book, 20 Years Younger, claims that if you pinpoint four areas of your life, you can quickly and easily turn back your body clock. “It’s all about consistency,” Greene says. “If you make healthy choices day after day, they really add up.”
While Greene admits that he hasn’t always lived a perfectly healthy life (exhibit one: the UV skin damage he sustained as a young adult and discovered during a recent scan at the dermatologist), he revamped his routine after scouring medical research and interviewing experts. After doing so, he noticed almost immediate improvements in energy levels, immunity and youthful appearance.
We scored the inside scoop from Greene about how we too can look, feel and live years below our biological age!
- Snack on these surprising superfoods. You’ve heard a lot about the antioxidant powers of blueberries and dark chocolate. But don’t discount the lesser-known nutrient-packed counterparts like kale, eggs, pomegranate, grapefruit and quinoa. Greene also suggest limiting saturated fats and cutting out trans fats.
- Work up a real sweat. To maintain health, you can get by with less, but for the best weight-loss, fitness and immune-boosting results, “strive to work out a minimum of five times a week,” Greene says. “I ran into Jack LaLanne at the airport a few years ago, and in his 90s, he looked like he was 60. He had a great spirit and amazing energy—he is a walking testament to the power of being active!”
- Give your skin some TLC. Sunscreen is a daily must, as we know, but it’s not too late if you’ve already experienced some skin damage. Greene swears by a sea salt skin polish (we like one that’s a mix of equal parts fine sea salt and olive oil) and recommends visiting a dermatologist to ask about vitamin C or vitamin A treatments to nourish sun-aged skin.
- Get some shut-eye. “I close myself off from the world when it’s time to sleep,” Greene says, although sometimes that has caused him trouble! “Oprah was trying to reach me soon after we first became friends, and when she tried to call my phone, it was off. She said, ‘How do people reach you?’ I told her that if she had called my doorman and said she was Oprah, I think he would know who that was and pass the call along!” Greene, a Tempur-Pedic fan, thinks sleep is the “forgotten step-child” of the wellness world, and suggests seven to eight hours in a room without dogs, ambient light or electronics.
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Did you catch the premiere of ABC’s new summer show Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition last night? Each episode chronicles one person’s yearlong fitness and weight-loss transformation. Motivational fitness trainer (and cutie!) Chris Powell and a team of medical and nutrition experts at the California Health & Longevity Institute near Los Angeles coach the show participants.
We asked Terry Schaack, M.D., the medical director of the institute who monitored the participants’ progress, to share his best tips for finding social support when you’re trying to lose weight. Since temptations arise daily—often several times each day—when trying to lose weight in the real world, having an encouraging team nearby can make all the difference.
Dr. Schaack’s Top Five Support Secrets
- If you are getting together with a friend to catch up, go for a walk instead of meeting for a drink or meal.
- When a friend asks you to sponsor her for a race or walk-a-thon, say yes (if you can) but also ask if you can join her for the event.
- The next time there’s a work event where food will be served, request that there be a low-cal option.
- Check out your town’s Parks and Recreation division, which can be a great resource for low cost fitness activities. You will find that many of the people who go to the events are there for the same reason as you.
- If a friend or family member is not supportive, understand that your continued success and dedication is the only way to show them that you are on the path to better health. It will be easier for them to support you when you are taking steps toward your goal.
Now tell us: Where do you find social support to keep you on track?
A note from FITNESS: We are proud to partner with SparkPeople to provide our readers with even more helpful content.
How does your personality affect your ability to live a healthier lifestyle? Perhaps you have your diet under control, but exercise in fits and starts, unable to maintain consistency. Or perhaps you are exceedingly disciplined in working out regularly, but are too impatient to keep the food journal that would help you rein in your habitual overeating. Analyzing your personality—appreciating your strengths while honestly acknowledging and balancing your weaknesses—may give you the self-knowledge you need to get and stay fit.
You can’t really change your basic personality, nor do you need to. A particular personality trait is two-sided—useful in some situations, not so helpful in others. By analyzing how your innate traits affect your health and well-being, you can come up with strategies to channel your tendencies—so they’re always strengths, never weaknesses.
Here are some personality traits that might make a difference, and then check out Spark for tips to help you use them to meet your health and fitness goals:
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? While it’s perfectly natural to lean one way or the other, it’s probably helpful to look for ways to balance your dominant tendency.
Are you a careful planner or an impulsive improviser? Both have their virtues. The planner faithfully counts calories and miles walked, while the improviser doesn’t stress out when an unexpected menu change at his favorite restaurant requires adaptability.
Are you intuitive or analytical? Both approaches can likely lead to success. Being honest about which way you lean will help you find the middle road that’s effective.
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