Five Things You Are Doing to Increase Heart Disease Risk

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You have a lot of control over your risk for diabetes and heart disease. What you eat, how much you weigh, and getting physically active can all lower blood sugar and improve heart health. Lark DPP focuses on weight and activity, but the recent check-in brought up smoking, being stressed, and drinking too much alcohol as additional concerns. 

It can be empowering to know you can lower heart disease risk at every turn. Here are five ways that you may be raising your risk, and what you can do about it.

 

1 . Skimping on sleep.


Have you ever heard the expression, “You can sleep when you are dead?” The trouble is that too little sleep may hasten along that time. Getting too little sleep not only makes you groggy, less efficient, and more accident-prone, but it also raises risk for heart attack and high blood pressure, and it interferes with blood sugar control and raises diabetes risk.

Nearly half of Americans could use more sleep. Lark can help you track sleep and find ways to get more if you decide that it is a priority. Better sleep hygiene, which can improve sleep quality, includes following a pre-bedtime routine, not sleeping near your smartphone, avoiding screens before bed, and avoiding caffeine for several hours before bedtime.

 

2 . Stressing.


Everyone has stress, but some people manage it better than others. The result is better heart health, since too much stress can raise your risk for hypertension, stroke, and heart attack, along with other concerns such as weight gain and depression.

There are plenty of strategies for managing stress in healthy ways. They include getting active, socializing with friends, breathing deeply, and eating healthy. It can also help to keep a log of stress so you can see what bothers you and why.

 

3. Drinking alcohol.


Too much alcohol can lead not only to acute problems such as intoxication and accidents, but also to higher risk for cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and heart-related problems such as heart failure and high blood pressure. An estimated 20 to 40% of Americans drink more than recommended amounts.

General guidelines are to limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men for those who already drink, but experts say it may be safer to abstain than to start drinking if you do not already drink regularly.

By the way, cutting back if you drink a lot of alcohol can also help your weight. A 5-oz. glass of wine has 123 calories, a 12-oz. can of beer has 153 calories, and a martini has 235 calories. Cutting back on 2 drinks per day can lead to ½ pound per week of weight loss.

 

4. Smoking


Smoking and using other tobacco products can cause cardiovascular harm in almost every way imaginable. Smoking raises risk for atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, damage to the heart tissue, chest pain, and heart failure. It is also a risk factor for diabetes. 

About 1 in 7 adults in the U.S. smoke.  Heart health can improve with time after quitting tobacco use, and diabetes risk can decrease. Quitting smoking is tough, but many programs and strategies are available to help. Having a strong support system can help, too, as cravings hit hard and the average successful quitter has tried over 20 times before to quit.

 

5. Sitting too much.


Exercising daily is great, but you can do even more to lower heart disease risk throughout the day. All it takes is getting up for a minute or two every half hour that you are sitting, because sitting for too long without moving raises diabetes risk along with raising blood pressure and potentially doing harm to blood vessels. It is easy to set a timer so you remember to move regularly, with simple moves such as marching in places, doing arm swings or squats, or stretching.

You have the chance, all day, every day, to make good choices for your heart and your blood sugar. Lark can help by being available 24/7 for reminders, tips, feedback, and encouragement. Each little step you take can have many great effects!

 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

How Sitting Can Kill You...and Why It Doesn’t Have to

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Diet and exercise are two top topics of the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) and are probably the two best-known lifestyle behaviors that can improve health. As the Lark DPP check-in mentioned, there is another lifestyle behavior that is gaining increasing attention, and that behavior is sitting.

The concept is simple. Sitting time, or sedentary time, is the time you spend sitting or being sedentary, such as lying on a couch, during waking hours. It may sound innocent enough - after all, being at a desk may be a job requirement, and chilling on an armchair watching TV may feel like a well-deserved break - but sedentary time can be harmful. Here is how sedentary time can hurt and what you can do about it.

 

What Is Wrong with Sedentary Time?


Everyone sits. You may sit in the car, at your job, and at home while relaxing or eating. Those activities sound innocent enough, but it seems as though society has taken them to the extreme. The average American adult spends about 8 hours per day doing nothing, at least physically. That is about half of waking hours[1].

An increasing body of research suggests that this sedentary time can be harmful in many ways[2]. People who sit more are more likely to die early and to develop conditions such as breast, colon, or endometrial cancers, heart disease, or depression.

Perhaps most concerning if you have prediabetes is the link between sedentary time and diabetes risk. Compared to people who sit the least, people who sit the most have 90% increased risk of developing diabetes! That is nearly double.

 

But I Go to the Gym!


That is great - keep it up! That regular exercise habit, whether in or out of the gym, has a wealth of benefits. That is why Lark DPP encourages you to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. That amount of exercise helps with weight control and blood sugar regulation, and is linked to better mood and reduced risk of hypertension and other chronic conditions. Not only that, but people who exercise regularly are less harmed by their sedentary time.

That said, going to the gym does not make up for too much sedentary time. It’s like eating broccoli: it is healthy, but eating broccoli does not mean that you can eat unlimited amounts of chocolate cake. Exercise is healthy, but being a good exerciser does not mean that you can get away with unlimited sedentary time. For best results, keep up the gym and break up your sitting time.

 

How to Break up Sitting Time


  1. Set a timer. While engrossed in work, time can pass quickly. Instead of watching the clock and spending precious brainpower on remembering, setting a timer can ensure that you move regularly enough to lower disease risk. Set the timer to ring once per half-hour, and stretch for 1 to 2 minutes each time it goes off.

  2. Talk to coworkers in person. Instead of chatting, phoning, or emailing coworkers who are in your office, walk over to them to talk in person. Standing up and walking, regardless of how close they are, breaks up sitting time. Plus, it can make the office more productive as more personalized bonds are formed, and conversations held in person can be more detailed than typed conversations.

  3. Take breaks. Walking to the break room for water or coffee and using the bathroom frequently are good ways to force breaks in sedentary time.

  4. Use Lark. Lark can send you push notifications when it detects that you have been sitting for too long. Plus, Lark tracks activity so you can see trends.

  5. Move while working. Sitting on a balance ball desk chair can force core muscles to engage and prevents total immobility, and a standing desk lets you work without sitting. If you get more ambitious, a treadmill desk or pedal pusher under the desk lets you get more active while working.

  6. Move during screen time. Using a stationary bicycle or treadmill while scrolling through social media or watching TV can prevent the hours from passing, unnoticed, while you remain motionless. If you truly just want to veg, try being a couch potato during the show and getting up for some calisthenics during commercials.

As dangerous as sitting can be, it is easy to break it up and prevent its harmful effects. Simple strategies that get you moving for a minute or two at a time throughout the day can keep you healthy along with your other healthy choices.

 

References

  1. Matthews CE, Chen KY, Freedson PS, et al. Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2003-2004. Am J Epidemiol. 2008;167(7):875–881. doi:10.1093/aje/kwm390

  2. Biswas A, Oh PI, Faulkner GE, Bajaj RR, Silver MA, Mitchell MS, Alter DA. Sedentary time and Its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(2):123-132. DOI: 10.7326/M14-1651

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health