High blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are well publicised contributors to the development of heart disease.
In today’s article, we highlight some other important, but lesser known factors that affect our heart health – sex, sleep, stress and smoking.
Thanks to its historically salubrious reputation, the topic is often touchy and verboten. Truth is, pretty much everyone does it, but no one really talks about it. However, sex sheds its seedy image as we discuss how this often maligned activity can contribute to your overall heart health.
Engaging in sexual activity has long been linked to multiple health benefits.
By increasing your body’s production of antibodies, sex boosts the immune system, and has been proven to decrease rates of the common cold. Another advantage of sexual intercourse is that it increases the production of essential hormones that facilitate intimacy between mother and child, and between couples. It even helps to ward off cancer – studies show that regular ejaculation in men reduces prostate cancer!
Sex is also good for your heart!
A landmark study conducted by the New England Research Institute in Massachusetts examined the heart health of 1000 individuals over a 16 year period. These were the heartening (pun intended) results –
Those who indulged in intercourse at least twice a week were 45 percent less likely to develop heart conditions, compared to those who had sex once a month or less.
Experts postulate that this protective effect is a combination of physical and emotional factors. Individuals who were having sex at least twice a week, were engaging in more physical activity, and were more likely to be fitter people. Additionally, members of this group were also more likely to be in supportive relationships, conferring greater partner intimacy and a robust social support structure. And finally, as everyone knows, sex is great for releasing tension, and relieving stress.
So all in, sex (when practiced responsibly), is great for keeping your heart happy and healthy!
The amount of sleep an individual requires varies significantly – some need a full 9 hours just to function normally, while others whiz through their day on just a short 4 hours the night before.
The average adult sleeps 6-7 hours a night, and for most, that doesn’t feel like enough.
Sleepiness is inconvenient and unproductive, but chronic sleep deprivation has far more serious consequences on your health. Insufficient sleep has been linked to poor memory, depression, weight gain, and decreased immunity.
Sleep deprivation also affects the heart.
Short sleepers who clock less than 6 hours a night are 50% more likely to develop or die of heart disease.
The exact mechanism by which sleep deprivation increases heart disease is complex and incompletely understood, but some of the theories include increased blood pressure and increased weight gain, both of which have been identified as risk factors for heart disease.
And it isn’t just about the quantity, but also the quality of your sleep.
A study by the World Health Organisation on sleep quality revealed that subjects who reported poor or disturbed sleep were 2.5 times more likely to have a heart attack.
So who knew sleep could be so good for your health? Practice healthy sleep habits, and start clocking in those extra zzz’s to reap the best benefits for your heart!
Stress exists in every day of our busy, deadline-demanding lives. Try a quick google search now and it’s likely to reveal thousands of articles, written about the ubiquity of stress and it’s many ill effects. Well, did you know that one of those ill effects is an unhealthy heart?
When the body encounters stress, it reacts by raising the heart rate and increasing blood pressure. If this process continues over a prolonged period, it can damage the blood vessels that supply the heart, leading to heart disease.
Studies done in several countries seem to confirm this correlation between stress and heart disease.
Out of 10,000 British office workers, those who reported significant stress at work were 68% more likely to have symptoms of, or die of heart disease.
The duration of stress is also proportional to your risk.
A South Korean research group examined the number of work hours per week, and found that those that worked 60-70 hours a week were nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease, compared to those who worked just 30-40 hours instead.
Stress can also increase your risk of heart disease in indirect ways. Individuals who experience chronic stress are more prone to engaging in maladaptive behaviours such as poor dietary choices, sedentary lifestyles, and increased nicotine and alcohol use. All of these, compounded, can worsen your heart health.
Cigarettes contain a staggering 4000 chemicals and 400 toxins, of which 43 have been identified as carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. And it’s not just cancer that’s of concern. Chronic lung disease, strokes, blindness, bone degeneration – name any modern illness and you can expect that smoking has been implicated in every one of them.
So how does smoking actually affect your heart?
If you’re a smoker, your risk of having a heart attack is anywhere from 2 to 6 times higher than a non smoker, and the risk increases depending on the number of sticks you smoke per day.
With these sobering statistics in mind, the best way to protect your heart and your health is to quit smoking completely.
Quitting isn’t easy, but there are many smoking cessation methods and nicotine replacement products to help with the process. Speak to your doctor today to discuss the options available for cutting down or kicking the habit.
So there you have it, the 4 secrets to your heart health!
This article is the second in our ongoing Heart Health Series.Stay tuned for more news about living with a healthy heart!
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