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The heart is at the center of good health, with cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death for Americans. This February, we are celebrating American Heart Month by compiling a list of things that our hearts love to hate. Avoiding these four things can help keep your heart, and the rest of your body, healthy.

1. Trans fats

Trans fats are artificial fats typically found in boxed and processed foods. They raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke. When grocery shopping, pay attention to whether the food labels on your favorite items mention “partially hydrogenated oils” – this indicates trans fats.

However, don’t fear all fats. Healthy fats found in foods like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish are an important part of any balanced diet. These unsaturated fats can lower disease risk.

2. Sedentary lifestyles

Staying active is crucial for maintaining a healthy heart. Those who lead sedentary lifestyles, engaging in little-to-no physical activity, have a higher risk of becoming overweight and developing heart disease or other conditions that are harmful to the heart, such as diabetes.

Make sure to exercise for at least an hour a day and include healthy habits into your daily routine. Go for a walk during your lunch break or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Little things like these can make a big difference.

3.  Smoking and drinking

Research shows that smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke increase your heart rate, which can be detrimental to the heart long-term. In addition, smoking and drinking alcohol regularly are both linked to high blood pressure, increasing your risk for suffering a heart attack or stroke.

If you are a smoker, start thinking about a plan for quitting. If you aren’t a smoker, don’t start, and try to avoid secondhand smoke at all costs. When it comes to drinking alcohol, do so only in moderation, if you choose to at all.

4. Stress

It’s no secret that stress takes a toll on the body. Stress can be dangerous due to its involvement in the adoption of unhealthy habits – things like smoking, drinking, physical inactivity and lack of sleep. These behaviors are all bad for the heart.
Exercising, eating healthy and surrounding yourself with loved ones are all great ways to manage stress.

If you believe you are at risk for developing heart disease, talk to your doctor. UCF Health offers cardiology services at both its East Orlando and Lake Nona locations.

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