5 Surprising Things That Can Harm Your Heart

harm your heartWe all know that a poor diet, not enough exercise, smoking, and overdrinking can harm your heart.

But there are other less obvious things you may not be aware of that are bad for your ticker. Things that you probably got away with when you were younger but affect your heart as you age.

Like what?

Here are 5 surprising things that can harm your heart:

Setting Your Alarm Clock

According to Research by the National Institute of Industrial Health in Japan, waking up to a jolting noise can be bad for your heart.

“Waking up abruptly can cause higher blood pressure and heart rate,” an article from ABC News notes. “Besides increasing your blood pressure, an alarm can add to your stress levels by getting your adrenaline rushing.”

Not only that, but it may be contributing to obesity, according to Till Roenneberg, a professor at the University of Munich’s Institute of Medical Psychology. His research suggests that it’s playing havoc with our biological clocks which can affect our weight as well.

If you’re retired, this may not be an issue. One of the perks of retirement is not having to wake up at a specific time every day.

But what if you’re still working and need to wake up early? Or maybe you’re taking an early morning flight. What should you do?

Here are three suggestions:

  • Try to wake up at the same time everyday. Crack open your blinds/curtains so light can shine through your windows.
  • If you must rise before the sun, put your lights on a timer.
  • If you prefer an alarm clock, use one that wakes you up with soft music, singing birds, or waves crashing. If you’re a sound sleeper, some alarms use louder tone chimes 10 minutes later if you’re still asleep.

Sitting in Bumper-to-Bumper Traffic

Okay, living in Southern California, I’m aware that sitting in traffic is super stressful. But I didn’t realize there’s a connection between traffic and heart attacks.

In other words, older people don’t have the luxury of road rage.

According to a Science Daily news release, patients who suffer a heart attack are likely to have been exposed to traffic, especially in the hour before the onset of symptoms. Studies have also shown that high noise levels – like the kind you hear on a freeway – are linked to heart attacks.

Statistics linking an association between traffic and heart attacks went up for women, elderly males, unemployed patients, and those with a history of angina.

What can you do if you are forced to travel during rush hour?

  • Give yourself lots of extra time.
  • Take some deep breaths.
  • Listen to relaxing music on the radio or create a soothing song list to play during stressful bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Drinking Too Much Diet Soda

We all know too much sugar is bad for us. So, some people have turned to artificially sweetened beverages.

But all those diet drinks don’t let you off the hook either.

Researchers found that people who drank the most  artificially sweetened beverages  (more than two per day) were significantly more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke compared to those who rarely or never had the drinks. A comprehensive April 2022 meta-analysis by the World Health Organization supported this connection. If you’re older, the risk even is higher. One study included 59,614 women with a mean age of 62.8 years. Researchers found that those drinking at least two diet drinks per day was associated with a higher risk of heart problems and dying from heart disease. Although more research is needed, since these studies showed an association but not causation, why take chances?

What are some refreshing alternatives you might want to try?

  • Flavored waters are widely available, but many contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. A healthier choice is to add slices of your favorite fruits, veggies, and herbs — try lemons, oranges, watermelon, cucumber, mint, or limes — to a pitcher of ice-cold water. Or put chopped-up or pureed fruit in an ice cube tray, add water, and freeze. Place these colorful fruit cubes in your beverage for instant flavor and color.
  • Iced or hot tea is always a good alternative. Or how about an Arnold Palmer – just mix iced tea with lemonade.
  • Need some fizz? Try sparkling water. If desired, add a splash of orange, cranberry, or mango juice for more flavor.

Snoring Like a Freight Train

I don’t mean to alarm you, because everyone snores sometimes. But you may need to take note if your snoring sounds like a scene out of Jurassic Park. I’m talking about loud, raucous, obnoxious snoring or snoring that is interrupted by pauses in breathing – which can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.

Here’s the bad news: Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during central sleep apnea can adversely affect heart health. The disorder is linked to high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, strokes, and heart failure. Don’t ignore your symptoms, as the negative effects on health should not be ignored, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Sleep apnea is more common than you may think. At least 25 million Americans and 936 million people worldwide are estimated to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, with many more undiagnosed. According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea occurs significantly more in older adults and is more common in men.

Concerned but don’t want the hassle of going to a sleep lab?

“Sleep tests nowadays are much, much easier to get than in prior years when you could only go to a sleep lab,” says sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta Dasgupta in a CNN interview. “You don’t have to be stuck in the lab with all these wires on you, looking like Frankenstein. You can do an at-home sleep test in your own bed, which is nice.”

Treatments can help you breathe easier and lower your risk for heart disease. The CNN article listed a few you may want to consider:

  • Sometimes simple positional therapy – sleeping on your side instead of your back – can improve airway flow and reduce snoring. Try sewing tennis balls into the back of your pajamas or wear your bra backwards and put the balls in the cups, experts suggest.
  • Weight loss can significantly decrease or even eliminate obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Doctors can also prescribe an oral appliance designed to enlarge the airway by moving the tongue or jaw forward. If anatomical issues, such as nasal polyps, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or a deviated septum, are contributing to the apnea, surgery may be recommended.
Getting the Flu 

A study published in January 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine found the risk of heart attack is over six times greater in the week after being infected with the influenza virus.

Little revs up your body’s immune response quite like the flu, explains Alfred Casale, MD, chair of the Geisinger Heart Institute in Danville, Pennsylvania in an interview for Health.com. “All the body’s defense mechanisms, all of its inflammatory soldiers, get called into service to destroy the virus,” he says. But that process also leads to heart and blood vessel inflammation. The flu shot may protect you because it ‘decreases the overall inflammatory effect on the heart,'” he adds.

Besides getting a flu shot, how can you boost your immune system?

  • Get active. According to a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, of 1,002 people surveyed, those who exercised at least five days a week had almost half the risk of getting sick as those who were more sedentary. If they did get sick, they reported less severe symptoms.
  • Reduce your stress. “When you’re under chronic stress or anxiety, your body produces stress hormones that suppress your immune system,” Mark Moyad, M.D., M.P.H., Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center says.
  • Get enough sleep. When you’re sleep-deprived,  your body churns out stress hormones like cortisol to keep you awake and alert, which can suppress your immune system, Moyad adds.


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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8 Responses

  1. Chris Gorges says:

    Thank you for sharing this information. I had no idea that some of these factors, such as snoring increasing the risk of heart disease. I appreciate the research and sources you provided too.

    I also found your tips very helpful and practical. I especially liked the idea of listening to relaxing music or chatting with a friend to cope with stress during traffic delays.

  2. This was really interesting Julie, a bit lucky here, no bumper to bumper traffic, no alarm clock, we never drink soda it’s far too sugary, hubby only snores mildly, we live healthy and rarely catch colds and flu. Great tips to reduce all the risks. I have definitely learnt a thing or two.

  3. These tips are great, Julie and I bet most people don’t connect them with heart disease.
    I knew about the diet drinks and glad I’ve never cared for the taste of them. I’ve heard the chemicals in them can even be somewhat addicting, too.
    I’ve been in your CA traffic and I wonder how you all do it everyday. Soft music or even a audio book sounds like the only way to deal with all that noise.
    Thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward to letting others know about these things, too.

  4. Cat Michaels says:

    Geez, I am in trouble with traffic jams (audiobooks help), but I wake up to a sweet twinkle little star tune -:D. Thanks for the tips!

  5. Cindy says:

    Thank you Julie for that information for those of us who are diabetic that is really important information

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