5 Heart Disease Risk Factors You Might Not Know

Reader's Digest columnist Joel K. Kahn, MD, shares little known factors that can contribute to your heart health.

View as Slideshow

Too Little Sleep

Too Little Sleep Russ and Reyn
While you snooze, your body works hard to repair DNA, replenish vitamin levels, and generate antioxidants. When researchers recently followed 15,000 people for 14 years, they found that those with a healthy lifestyle (exercise, nutritious diet, moderate alcohol, no smoking) had a 67 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease. But if they also got seven or more hours of sleep a night, they had an 83 percent lower risk—almost heart attack proof! I advise making sleep a priority; use a cool, dark room without distractions, and have a nightly bedtime.

Too Little Happiness

Too Little HappinessCreatas/Thinkstock
Scientists asked a group of people at risk for heart disease to complete a test that measured well-being, optimism, and life satisfaction. After following the participants for 25 years, the researchers found that the happiest and most optimistic people had one third the heart disease risk of the others. In the highest-risk patients, a high well-being score reduced the risk of heart disease by half. Optimistic, happy people look forward to the future and tend to prepare with healthier lifestyles.

Too Much Air Pollution

Too Much Air PollutioniStock/Thinkstock
Chemicals in polluted air may increase inflammation in the body and promote oxidation, the rusting of important organs (like your heart). Scientists in Vancouver, British Columbia, found that increases in traffic pollution and noise were linked with a 6 percent increase in heart disease–related deaths over nearly ten years. When factories in Beijing closed for two months around the 2008 Summer Olympics to improve air quality, citizens experienced better blood pressure and artery health. Steer clear of secondhand smoke, keep a distance from the exhaust of trucks and cars when outside, and avoid situations in which air quality is poor, such as grilling indoors.

Too Many Heavy Metal Toxins

Too Many Heavy Metal ToxinsiStock/Thinkstock
As many as three quarters of people have high blood levels of chemicals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, which may poison enzymes involved in healing. In one study, more than 1,400 heart attack survivors received a weekly infusion of a medicine that removes heavy metals (chelation therapy) or a placebo for 30 weeks. Patients in the first group, especially those with diabetes, experienced fewer heart events. While more research is needed, avoid these compounds by eating organic food, using green cleaning products, and filtering tap water. Eat a diet rich in dark green leafy veggies like kale and collard greens, which help your liver eliminate these poisons.

Content continues below ad

Too Much Stress

Too Much Stress iStock/Thinkstock
Chronic stress elevates cortisol and adrenaline, which makes blood sugar rise and hardens blood vessels. Look what happens when people get their stress in check: Researchers took 201 people with heart disease and either taught them about heart health or combined that info with instructions on how to meditate. After five years, the meditators had a whopping 50 percent reduction in heart attack, stroke, and death. I encourage my patients to explore slow, easy yoga classes or to borrow an instructional DVD.

Joel K. Kahn, MD, is a clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine and director of cardiac wellness at Michigan Healthcare Professionals.

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.

From clientsfromhell.net

Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.