10 Ways You’re Increasing Your Risk of Heart Disease

Man having troubles with his heart

This man might want to protect his heart by eating better. | iStock.com

Odds are, heart disease is going to kill you. That’s just by sheer probability, of course — it’s not a guarantee. You can do your best to lower your risk, of course, but if you take a look at the list of America’s most common causes of death, heart disease lands squarely on top.

Heart disease, by definition, is a fairly broad term. It is often called cardiovascular disease as it actually affects your entire cardiovascular system. But the most common form, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is coronary heart disease. “It is a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack. A heart attack happens when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.”

Essentially, our internal plumbing (arteries and veins) become clogged up with plaque. Eventually, our blood flow becomes blocked, and as a result, we suffer a heart attack or stroke. There are other associated medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and angina, but when encapsulated into one lump category, we generally refer to it all as heart disease.

And again, it kills more people in the United States than anything else. The good news? It’s largely preventable if you’re willing to take the necessary steps. The most basic things you can do to prevent it? Fix your diet and exercise. It’s fairly simple on the surface.

But there are things we do that elevate our risk, too. Most of them you have some level of control over, so if you’re willing to make the necessary changes, you can. Here are 10 ways you’re increasing your risk of heart disease.

1. Meat consumption

Burgers cooking on a grill

Burgers aren’t exactly good for your ticker. | iStock.com

For most people, the biggest source of artery-clogging fats and cholesterol is meat. Not all meats are created equal, mind you, as lean options like fish and chicken are typically good for you. It’s the processed and red meats that present a real problem. If you’re someone who has to have bacon every morning and a burger for lunch or dinner every day, you’re increasing your risk.

2. Drinking

A man inspects his beer

Alcohol isn’t helping. | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

First, we came for your bacon cheeseburger. Now, we’re coming for your beer.

As much as it sucks, drinking can also lead to an increased risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association says. But it’s all about moderation — having a beer or two, here and there, isn’t going to do much damage. It’s when you drink a lot — whether binging every so often or going for the slow burn — that real problems arise.

3. Smoking

Crushing out a cigarette in a ashtray

If you smoke, now is the time to quit. | iStock.com

We’re not quite done attacking all things fun. Smoking, as almost everyone is aware, is a surefire way to guarantee an early death. Cancers aside, smoking can also be a huge contributor to heart disease. Smoking restricts the blood vessels, and as the AHA notes, can also help fatty buildup form in the arteries. And the younger you start smoking, the higher your risk of developing heart disease.

4. Bad sleep habits

A night owl screws around on the computer when he should be sleeping

Fix your bad sleeping habits immediately. | iStock.com

It may sound bizarre, but your sleep habits can actually have an impact on your cardiovascular health. Not getting enough sleep has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. There are several reasons for it, including a higher likelihood of hypertension. Stress plays a big role as well, as a lack of sleep will make you tired, irritable, and cause stress to build up.

5. Sugar consumption

Pepsi, Coca Cola And Fanta

Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Fanta are just not good for your heart. | iStock.com/Radu Bercan

Yes — pretty much everything fun and delicious is bad for your heart. Sugar is awful for you in pretty much every way, especially when you consume foods or beverages with lots of added sweeteners. That extra sugar, studies show, leads to a higher risk of heart disease. Obesity also plays into it, which puts you at a higher risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. So, steer clear of too many sweets.

6. Taking certain medications

medicinal tablets with blue container

Some medications can lead to problems. | iStock.com/LuCaAr

Medicine is supposed to make you better, right? Well, yes — but sometimes, it can cause other complications. And when it comes to heart health, there are many medications that can wreak havoc on your ticker. In fact, there are lists of more than 100 medications and supplements that are associated with heart problems.

But there are three categories that are the biggest offenders: Medicines containing high sodium levels, antihistamines, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, for example).

7. Neglecting exercise

Two hippopotami basking in the sunshine at London Zoo

Don’t get lazy with exercise. | William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images

This is a bit obvious, but it needs to be included. If you don’t get enough physical activity in during the day, it’s going to hurt your body. And it’s one of the main reasons people develop heart disease, The New York Times reports. When you don’t burn off enough energy during the day, you eventually end up putting on weight. That makes your heart’s job harder, and if you start gaining weight, your cholesterol and lipid levels can be thrown off balance.

8. Salt imbalances

kidney cross section

Your kidneys are also affected. | iStock.com/Hywards

There’s a fair amount of debate as to whether salt and sodium play a role in heart health. But your body does have a salt balance to keep in check, just like it does with sugar. Salt intake doesn’t actually cause heart disease, but it can throw the amount of water in your body off, which can constrict the blood vessels and lead to hypertension. That can cause problems as it relates to your cardiovascular system, especially if your vessels are already strained.

9. Skipping the fruits and veggies

freshly picked homegrown garden vegetables

Freshly picked homegrown garden vegetables are always a smart choice. | iStock.com/ jdwfoto

Bringing your diet back into the mix, it’s important that you’re eating your fruits and veggies — just like your mom used to make you do. No, a salad isn’t as satisfying or delicious as a cheeseburger, but produce is chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Make it a habit of eating more produce (there are a lot of ways to get it into your diet), and you’ll be able to dodge unhealthy processed foods and meats with higher frequency.

10. Bottling it all up

Stressed business man

Try to manage your stress levels. | iStock.com

If the Hulk were real, odds are he would’ve had a stroke or an aneurysm at some point. All the stress and anger? It can put added pressure on your body. Blood pressure, for example, can spike. And if you’re stressed and angry, all the time? It’s going to cause some real heart issues. Especially when coupled with high cholesterol, obesity, and other risk factors.