Mr. Hu lit up a cigarette, as he usually does after a long day at work, and took in a deep breath. As he smoked, he started to feel a dull pain in his chest, which gradually worsened into intense squeezing pain. He was covered in sweat. A series of tests ordered by a doctor at the hospital revealed a blood clot in his aorta. Electrocardiogram (EKG) results showed that he had experienced heart failure. It’s a common habit to have; after a long day’s work, you want to smoke a cigarette to unwind.
Scientists have discovered that the nicotine in tobacco causes the aorta to shrink and, consequently, heart pressure rises abruptly, elevating the risk of heart disease. The doctor advised Mr. Hu that if he were to do only one thing to help himself, he should stop smoking at night when he’s tired and ready for bed.
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Doctors say it’s best to stop smoking altogether, but if you struggle, at least cut out smoking at bedtime when you are most vulnerable.
8 more tips to beat heart failure
Take small breaks throughout the day (not cigarette breaks!). Stretch, take several deep breaths, and hydrate. Both physical and mental exhaustion have been found to significantly increase oxygen requirements by the body, hence, boosting the heart’s oxygen uptake and putting pressure on the heart. Exhaustion can also increase the likelihood of pieces of plaque breaking off and causing a blood clot.
Intense emotions like nervousness, anger, anxiety, depression, and sadness can’t necessarily be avoided, but we can learn coping strategies, like meditation, to help us transition through them more smoothly. Intense and especially prolonged emotional instability puts extra pressure on the heart.
3. Fat and protein
Taking in excessive amounts of protein or fat can lead to elevated cholesterol levels and an increased risk of blood clots and platelet accumulation. Dietary expert Dr. Doug Graham recommends only 10 percent of your daily calories come from fat and 10 percent from protein (80 percent carbohydrate) in his book The 80:10:10 Diet. He also advises avoiding taking in fat and sugar together, as this can lead to a variety of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
Cold temperatures have the potential to make hypertension worse and trigger cardiovascular complications, according to some in the medical field. And the shock of sudden coldness can be risky for those with a weak heart. However, a study carried out by Radboud University shows that whole-body cold therapy, like the Wim Hof Method, can significantly strengthen the body and its immunity. Moreover, lowering the body temperature to around 33°C for 24 hours right after cardiac arrest can reduce damage to the brain and greatly increase the chances of recovery.
Medical professionals have seen a link between constipation and heart problems, especially in the elderly. Holding the breath or excessive pushing during a bowel movement is thought to put pressure on the heart. Try natural laxatives like soaked prunes or figs as a part of your breakfast, avoid dehydrated foods, and improve hydration throughout the day.
Getting adequate and good quality sleep is important. Aim to finish your last meal two hours before bed and avoid screen use (computer, phone, TV) one hour before. Try to get to sleep before 11 p.m. and never later than 2 a.m. Playing white noise can help you get to sleep, but if using your phone, place it in the doorway away from your bed.
Foods and beverages that are rich in antioxidants, especially in their raw state, can highly benefit the body and improve energy levels, as well as help the heart. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables — especially all types of berries, kale, and bananas — as well as raw nuts (cooked nuts are said to be carcinogenic) and pecans, in particular, contain high amounts of antioxidants. Fresh sprouts (alfalfa, broccoli, quinoa, buckwheat) are easy to grow at home and contain very beneficial electrolytes. Raw, pink coconut water from young coconuts is also good. You can consume a high volume of these fruits by blending them into a sweet smoothie, best drunk in the morning as breakfast. You can also try replacing coffee with green tea.
Aim for 60 minutes of aerobic exercise (cardio) — like brisk walking, swimming, running, or cycling — most days of the week for youth, and 150 minutes a week for adults, as recommended by most fitness professionals.
Translated by Audrey Wang and edited by Emiko Kingswell