Are your habits hurting your heart?

Posted on 23 September 2019

You may think you’re doing enough to avoid cardiovascular disease (CVD), but unfortunately there are some surprisingly common habits you may not know have a detrimental effect on your heart health.


You want to live a long life, which is why you may be doing your utmost to live a healthy one. Unfortunately though, you may be surprised to learn that although you’re trying to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, some of your daily habits may be putting you at risk of CVD without you even knowing it. Dr Anil Kurian, a cardiologist from Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, reveals surprisingly common habits that may be damaging your heart health.


“Skipping any of your three meals can be detrimental to your heart health, but studies have shown that skipping breakfast specifically increases your risk of CVD,” says Dr Kurian.

One recent study suggested those who skipped breakfast had an 87% higher risk of CVD-related death. But Dr Kurian says drawing a direct causal link may be difficult, as it is impossible to prove why. “Although that may be over-stating the mortality risk, as there are many factors other than breakfast intake that will also have an impact, I do agree with the authors that you’ll experience a dramatic increase in your CVD risk if you forget to eat breakfast.”


Chronic snoring is often a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which raises your risk for diabetes, obesity, hypertension, stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. “It’s under-diagnosed and prevalent in those with CVD. We differentiate between mild, moderate and severe OSA. In moderate and severe, there’s a higher all-cause mortality, so these patients have a shortened lifespan than those who don’t have it, due to the associated risks.”

Although it’s a serious condition, it’s treatable in various effective ways, such as using a Continuous Positive Airway


“The documented evidence shows you have a higher risk of CVD if you sit for more than 10 hours a day,” says Dr Kurian. “We recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise every week, that is, 30 minutes for five days a week. However, even if you do that, but spend the rest of your day sedentary, you still have an increased risk of CVD.”

Minimise the amount of time you spend in prolonged sitting. “For every 30 minutes you sit, get up and walk around for a few minutes,” he advises. Alternate between a standing and sitting desk at work, and answer your emails, calls and texts while standing.

A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that sitting for prolonged periods raised the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14%, cancer by 13% and type 2 diabetes by 91%. Those who sat for long stretches and didn’t get regular exercise had a 40% higher risk of early death. With regular exercise, the risk was smaller but still significant: about 10%.


Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that vaping (smoking e-cigarettes) is a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, but that’s not necessarily the case, warns
Dr Kurian. “Research is starting to point towards the harmful effects of e-cigarettes, including vaping that has a dramatically negative impact on cardiovascular health,” he says. “Recent research shows that one of the molecules, nitric oxide, that’s needed to help keep blood vessels healthy and control blood pressure levels, is adversely impacted by vaping, which ultimately leads to CVD, just as traditional cigarettes do.”





Almost one in four children aged 2 to 14 is overweight or obese in SA and one in 10 suffers from high blood pressure (hypertension), which puts them at an increased risk for developing CVD and diabetes.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing younger and younger patients presenting with a high risk for CVD,” says Dr Kurian. “Historically, hypertension, cholesterol and other associated CVD conditions were considered to be adult-related diseases, but there’s been an increase in these conditions among children too. This is due to a multitude of risk factors – including bad lifestyle habits.”


While you can’t change the world around you, you can make lifestyle changes that minimise your stress levels. “A lot of stress is created by how we organise and deal with our daily responsibilities and pressures,” says Dr Kurian. “Learning time management skills and planning ahead, as well as partaking in a healthy lifestyle, will go a long way to managing your stress levels.”

Identify healthy outlets to de-stress, such as finding a healthy hobby, writing in a journal, learning relaxation techniques, con ding in those you trust, and confronting stressful situations head-on.



Published in Cardiology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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