When it comes to keeping your heart healthy and strong, there are the obvious go-tos: eat well, exercise, avoid tobacco and manage your cholesterol and blood pressure. But there are also a lot of not-so-obvious ways to give your heart health a boost. The best part: Some of them are already built into your daily routine.
Here are five daily habits that, when done right, can (surprisingly) impact your heart for the better:
1. Brushing and Flossing Your Teeth
If avoiding cavities and keeping your pearly whites white weren’t enough motivation to brush your teeth, try adding “protect heart” to the list. Your mouth is home to more than 700 different species of bacteria. And while most are there to contribute to your oral health, a decent portion of them can actually cause disease in your mouth and in other parts of the body.
How it works: Plaque is made up mostly of bacteria, so when it builds up on teeth, it can cause infections like gingivitis and periodontitis in the gums. Once infected, the inflammation in the gums can travel through the bloodstream, causing inflammation and damage to blood vessels, which then can lead to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, stroke and other serious heart issues. The good news is regular oral hygiene can be an easy fix to keep the bacteria at bay. In fact, one study found that those who brushed their teeth three or more times a day had a 10% lower risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat) and a 12% lower chance of heart failure.
The official recommendation: Brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day, floss daily and have regular dental checkups.
2. Getting the Right Amount of Sleep (at the Right Time)
Get a few nights of bad sleep and the resulting sluggish, irritable feeling is enough to see how much our physical and mental well-being relies on a good night’s rest. Turns out, our heart is no different. In 2011, a study found that those who slept less than six hours a night had a 48% higher chance of developing or dying from coronary heart disease or heart-related issues. That’s because when we sleep, our blood pressure naturally drops and allows the heart to recover from any strain it experienced during the day. Without enough time to recuperate, the built-up strain can result in multiple heart issues, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart attack.
On the flip side, too much sleep can also be problematic. The same 2011 study found that those who slept more than nine hours a night had a 38% higher chance of developing the same heart conditions as those who slept too little.
The amount of sleep isn’t the only factor — so is when you sleep. Researchers have recently found those who go to bed between 10 and 11 p.m. have the greatest protection against heart disease. Because of the way the body’s circadian rhythm reacts to daylight and nighttime, those who went to bed between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. had a 12% increased chance of heart disease while those who went to bed after midnight had a 25% higher risk. And for those who went to bed before 10 p.m., their chance of developing heart disease was 24% higher.
The official recommendation: Get seven to eight hours of sleep with a bedtime between 10 and 11 p.m.
3. Taking a Hot Bath
In addition to being a great stress reliever (a heart health perk), soaking in a hot bath can physically help your heart as well. That’s because the high temperatures can cause your blood vessels to dilate, effectively lowering your blood pressure and reducing strain on the heart. In fact, one study tracked the bathing habits and medical records of 30,000 people for more than 20 years and found those who bathed almost every day had a 28% lower risk of heart problems and 26% lower risk of stroke compared to those who bathed less than two times a week.
The official recommendation: Enjoy a nice hot bath (versus a shower) a few times each week.
4. Drinking Water
Like sleep, drinking water can impact your mental and physical health in multiple ways, from cushioning our joints to maintaining our body temperature to, surprise, preventing heart disease. Water helps control the sodium level in your body, known as serum sodium. When you don’t drink enough water, your serum sodium, measured by millimoles per liter (mmol/L), increases and triggers your body to try to conserve water. In doing so, it can activate certain processes known to cause heart failure.
When comparing serum sodium levels to risk for heart disease over the course of 25 years, researchers found for every 1 mmol/L increase in serum sodium concentration, a person’s risk for heart failure increased 11%. They also had a 20% higher chance of developing a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy, which is when the walls of the heart chamber thicken. With left ventricular hypertrophy, the pumping pressure in the heart weakens and can lead to an irregular heartbeat or even heart failure.
The official recommendation: Drink at least eight glasses of water each day and consume foods with high water concentration.
5. Enjoying a Good Laugh
Our bodies are very responsive to emotions. And while anger and anxiousness can release stress hormones in our body, which can lead to high blood pressure and inflammation, laughter has the ability to cancel out many of the negative effects of stress while promoting heart health. That’s because when we laugh, we tend to relax and take deep, hearty breaths — both of which help dilate blood vessels and improve overall blood circulation. And we’re not talking just a little boost. One study found laughter actually resulted in a 22% increase in dilation, which is similar to what you’d see during a workout. By contrast, mental stress decreased the size of blood vessels by 35%.
The official recommendation: Find a way to laugh for at least 15 minutes a day.
Giving your heart health a boost doesn’t have to be a big undertaking or a major overhaul of your lifestyle. Little habits throughout your routine can add up to give your heart some extra protection and love. So go on, brush those teeth and drink that water, and enjoy the perks of a happy, healthy heart.
Next Steps and Useful Resources
- Want more ways to boost your heart health? Try our four-week challenge.