Heart of the Matter: Unique Ways to Boost Heart Health

Some contributors to heart health are more well-known than others: Eat a healthy diet. Get daily exercise. Quit smoking. Reduce stress. Control high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

Beyond the tried and true, what else can you do to protect your heart? Plenty, it seems. As American Heart Month gets underway, follow these less-talked-about tips to boost your heart health. Some of them may surprise you.

  • Take Care of Your Teeth. Bad oral hygiene is bad for your heart. A study found that significant tooth loss prior to middle age, or losing two or more teeth during middle age, increases your risk of coronary heart disease. One of the biggest culprits of tooth decay, and resulting tooth loss, is unhealthy gums. Nearly 50 percent of all adults age 30 and older, and more than 70 of those over 65 in the United States, have some form of periodontal disease. Studies have linked periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease, with cardiovascular problems, arterial blockages and stroke. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once daily and visiting your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.

  • Protect Your Hearing. We live in a loud world. It's estimated that between 6 and 24 percent of U.S. adults under age 70 have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). In addition to damaging your hearing, chronic exposure to loud noise can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. While the sound of typical conversation (around 60 decibels) is fine, sounds that measure above 85 decibels can damage your hearing. You can measure noise levels with a smartphone app, such as Sound Level Meter. To protect your hearing, use noise-cancelling earphones or headphones during loud events or activities.

  • Get a Good Night's Sleep. If you're not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep a night for adults, you may be shortchanging more than your sleep. During sleep, your blood pressure drops. Chronic sleep deprivation keeps your blood pressure elevated and raises the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study of middle-aged men found those who slept five hours or less a night had double the risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who got seven to eight hours of nightly shut-eye.

  • Review Your Medications. Some medications and supplements may adversely affect your heart. For example, pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in many decongestants, can raise blood pressure. Ask your health care provider about the heart health risks of any medications you're taking. Your pharmacist can help you choose heart-friendly over-the-counter medicines and supplements.

  • Improve Your Mental Health. Heart health is about more than just improving your body. Stress, anxiety and anger can all affect the heart. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health have found depression can increase inflammation, impact heart rate and circulation, and increase stress hormones. A review of studies found meditation can reduce cortisol, triglycerides, blood pressure and heart rate. Another study found practicing yoga also has heart benefits, including lowering cortisol, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate and fasting blood glucose.

Heart HealthAnisha Bhadla