Heart Hurter: Carrying around extra kilos
Once you hit 40, you’re at risk for gradual weight gain—the kind that slowly but surely expands your waistline and puts you at higher risk for heart disease, Dr. Bhatt says. “Your metabolism is slowing, so if you’re doing what you’ve always done, you may start gaining weight,” he adds.
Heart Helper: Step on the scale every day. To keep future weight gain from catching you by surprise, get in the habit of stepping on the scale every day, now. Dr Bhatt recommends checking your weight first thing in the morning without any clothing on before you’ve eaten or showered. “You want to get a consistent evaluation that allows you to compare how your weight is changing over time,” he says. While fluctuating a kilo or so day to day is normal (diet, hydration and hormones all influence your daily number), if the scale trends upward week after week, that's a sign you may need to make some diet adjustments.
Your goal is to stay within 7 kilos of the weight you and a doctor have identified as your ideal target, adds Dr Ted Epperly.
Heart Hurter: Always going back for seconds
Evidence continues to pile up in support of a Mediterranean diet for optimal heart health. Nutritionists also recommend eating these 25 best foods for your heart. But whatever you decide to nibble on, keeping an eye on your portion sizes is vital and can help you ward off weight gain. “A diet lower in kilojoules is a good idea,” Dr. Bhatt says. Again, after 40, your metabolism starts to slow, he says, so overeating could lead to gradual, significant weight gain—the kind that imperils your heart—even if it doesn't seem to have much effect on your waistline now. Skipping second helpings and sticking to appropriate serving sizes are both effective ways to safeguard your heart and waistline, Dr. Bhatt says.
Heart Helper: Watch portion sizes. As a rule of thumb, a serving of protein should be the size of your palm (90g), a serving of grains should be the size of a tennis ball (1/2 cup), and a serving of veggies should be the size of a baseball (1 cup). As for fats, consume no more 1 teaspoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. If after finishing your meal and digesting for 10 minutes you're still hungry, sure, go back for more. The trick here is to check in with your hunger cues and only continue eating when you genuinely need to. And to make sure you don't overdo it, stick to lower kilojoule options like fruits and veggies.
Heart Hurter: Pushing yourself too hard at the gym—or avoiding it altogether.
“Ideally, you’re exercising 30 to 45 minutes a day, three to four times a week,” says cardiologist Dr Richard Stein. That said, if your workout of choice is super-intense—think CrossFit or Bootcamp—you can have too much of a good thing, Dr Stein says. Some research suggests too much vigorous exercise may damage the heart, especially later in life. Heavy exercise can also worsen underlying heart issues, Dr Miller says.
Heart Helper: Learn your own limits. “Recognise that you can’t just get up and run a marathon,” he says. “When you’re 20, you can do that, but after 40, you need a five- to 10-minute warmup and cool down.” He compares the ageing human body to an older car that’s been sitting outside in the cold. “It could still be a very high-performance machine, but it needs time to warm up,” he adds. Taking time to walk, foam roll, or stretch before and after vigorous exercise is always a good idea.
Heart Hurter: Not taking time to decompress
There’s no escaping stress. “It’s just a part of life,” Dr Bhatt says. “But how you react to stress can make a big difference.” Other heart experts agree. “Stress is bad, but not being able to do anything about it—to have no control to make it better or worse—is what’s harmful in the long-run,” Dr Stein explains.
Heart Helper: Say om. Both Dr Bhatt and Dr Stein say meditation has proved helpful in combatting out-of-control stress. “With or without a spiritual component, meditation can help you react to stress in healthier ways,” Dr Bhatt says.
Heart Hurter: Saying "no thanks" to plans
Sure, we all need a night in to catch up on This Is Us once in a while. But if you're RSVPing "no" to everything you're invited to, that can have surprising effects on your ticker down the line. “Friends are critically important to heart health,” says Dr Michael Miller. “We know that social isolation, as we get older, really wreaks havoc on the heart.” One 2016 study in the journal Heart found loneliness and social isolation are as bad for you as smoking when it comes to your risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. In fact, a lack of social relationships raises a person’s risk for heart disease by 29%, according to the report. While experts are still teasing out the reason spending quality time with friends and family is so good for our tickers, the authors of the study say it may have to with curbing stress.
Heart Helper: Stay in touch. Make an effort to maintain your friendships, Dr Miller advises. Dr. Stein agrees, and says men in particular need to be careful not to lose touch with friends—something that often happens when men near their 40s. “Life is better when you have people to share your existence with,” he says.
Heart Hurter: Smoking—and yes, that includes pot
“The rule with smoking cessation is you have to keep trying,” Dr Stein says. “I think the stats show the average person who has successfully quit tried seven to 10 times before it worked.” Smoking tobacco is undoubtedly one of the worst things you can do for your heart. But the younger you quit, the better your prognosis, he says.
You should also reconsider your marijuana habit. “Marijuana use can raise a person’s risk of heart attack,” Dr Bhatt says. While the evidence is preliminary, research has linked marijuana use with both heart disease and stroke.
Heart Helper: Just quit, already! Talk to your doctor about a winning strategy for you. Depending on your needs and your individual personality, that may mean behavioral therapy, nicotine replacement therapy, medication or a combination of treatments.