By Malia Jacobsen for Women's Health
Talk about overworked and underappreciated. Your heart fuels your body through blistering treadmill sprints, flutters at the sight of a shirtless Chris Hemsworth, and paces you through a crazy work day--all the while supplying your brain, limbs, and organs with oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood. Yet 40 percent of women rarely give their heart a second thought, according to a poll conducted by Women's Health, the American Heart Association (AHA), and Weekend Today.
That's scary, considering one in four females will die of heart disease--an often-silent illness that can start as early as your teenage years. (Framed another way, your lifetime risk for heart disease is nearly triple your lifetime risk for breast cancer.)
So, yeah, it's time to give this pulsating powerhouse some love. The AHA released new guidelines in November that urge people to fill up on produce and whole grains, break a sweat for at least 40 minutes a few times a week, and keep cholesterol in check.
For more ways to keep your heart healthy, check out these four great and four terrible things for your ticker:
Happy news! A cheery disposition has been linked to a lower risk for heart disease, especially among people with a family history of the disorder. A sunny temperament may serve as a buffer against heart health-sapping stress. For a little help looking on the bright side of things, be sure to read up on these 9 ways to experience more joy in life.
Both green and black varieties may help reduce "bad" cholesterol (LDL). Having regular cups can also improve artery function. Skip bottled versions and brew it yourself for the biggest benefits. To learn more, definitely read about The Drink That Can Help You Lose More Weight.
The mineral plays a crucial role in helping your heart beat, and an extra 200 milligrams daily could slash your cardiac disease risk by 22 percent. Load your plate with magnesium superstars like whole grains, nuts, and leafy greens. To find out how else to load up on all the most important vitamins and minerals, read 9 Absolutely Essential Nutrients--and Yummy Ways to Get Each One.
Good: Happy Hour
Yup, you read that right. Light tippling may drop your risk for sudden cardiac death by 30 to 40 percent. Just keep it to one drink or less per day. More than that has the opposite effect--in fact, be sure to read The Scary Thing That Happens to Your Body After a Weekend of Drinking, if you need incentive to keep your drink orders to a minimum. And no need to start drinking if you don't already!
Bad: Constant Noise
Living near a busy airport or always being around loud traffic could raise your heart disease risk. Experts believe noise pollution can cause an uptick in stress, which increases blood pressure. Earplugs! On a related note, check out 6 Surprising Signs You're Stressed Out, to determine if all the noise around you (among other things…) has been having an impact on your anxiety levels.
Bad: Hormonal Havoc
Heart attack risk can be seven times higher in women with out-of-whack estrogen or testosterone levels. If you notice irregular periods, sudden weight gain, or excess body hair, see your doc, ASAP.
Bad: Air Pollution
Researchers estimate that cleaning up smoggy air could prevent nearly 8,000 heart failure hospitalizations each year. Breathing it in contributes to atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries. Just moving farther from big roadways can reduce your risk.
Sure, everyone has the right to get PO'd from time to time. But a permanently angry outlook is extra hard on your ticker: Your chances of a heart attack increase 2.4-fold in the two hours after a rage-fueled outburst, thanks to sky-high levels of adrenaline and cortisol that squeeze arteries. To keep your cool (or to make your heightened emotions work FOR you), check out Tips to Control and Turn Your Anger into a Positive Thing.