High blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are well publicised contributors to the development of heart disease.
In today’s article, we highlight four other important, but lesser known factors, that affect our heart health: Sex, sleep, stress and smoking.
Traditionally taboo, sex is one of those activities that every one does but no one talks about. This important, but oft-maligned activity, can contribute to your overall heart health.
Engaging in sexual activity has long been linked to multiple health benefits.
Sex can help you reduce the occurrence of the common cold by increasing your body’s production of antibodies, thereby boosting your immunity. 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, with studies showing that regular ejaculation in males reduces the risk of 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 results – Those who participated in sexual 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.
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. Finally, sex is great for releasing tension, and relieving stress.
When practised responsibly, sex is great for keeping your heart happy and healthy!
So all in, sex (when practiced responsibly), is great for keeping your heart happy and healthy!
The amount of sleep needed by individuals lies on a spectrum. Some people need a full 9 hours just to function normally, while others whiz through their day on 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. It 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 not entirely understood. Some of the theories include increased blood pressure and increased weight gain, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
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. They were also 4 times more likely to have a stroke.
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!
The modern career places stress in every juncture of the day. A quick google search will reveal thousands of articles about the ubiquity of stress and its many ill effects. 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 how stress is related the number of work hours per week, and found that people who worked 60-70 hours a week were nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease, as compared to those working 30-40 hours.
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 like poor dietary choices (binging on comfort food), sedentary lifestyles, and increased nicotine and alcohol use to numb themselves from the pressure. When compounded, all this can worsen your heart health.
Cigarettes contain a staggering 4000 chemicals and 400 toxins, of which 43 have been identified as cancer-causing. But 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 implications in every one of them.
The latest fad in smoking is e-cigarettes, which have been touted as the ‘healthier and safer’ alternative to conventional cigarettes. This battery-operated device looks like the original cigarette, but contains no tobacco. Instead, it encases a liquid cartridge containing nicotine, flavouring, and other chemicals, which is then heated up to produce an inhalable vapour.
Marketers claim that the absence of tobacco makes e-cigarettes a much healthier choice, but the FDA has disputed this, announcing that e-cigarettes fumes contain detectable levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens that are also found in conventional cigarettes. E-cigarettes are relatively new, so there are no long term studies that can confirm their safety.
Nevertheless, the e-cigarette market is booming, with more and more smokers turning to this new device. E-cigarettes are currently banned in Singapore, but they remain in high demand, with illegal sellers importing the devices from China and Malaysia to fuel the growing market.
So how does smoking actually affect your heart?
Smoking releases chemicals and free radicals, which can cause damage and thickening of the blood vessels in the heart. This leads to narrowing and eventual blockage, causing a heart attack.
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 the wide range of smoking cessation methods and nicotine replacement products should give you no excuse. Speak to your doctor today to discuss the options available for cutting down and eventually kicking the habit.
There you have it, the 4 secrets to your heart health!
If you’re keen to find out more about your own heart health profile, or want to discuss strategies to optimise your heart health, come into our Healthcare Partner’s clinics to chat with their doctors!
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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