Everyday Activities that Can Impact the Heart

Everyday Activities that Can Impact the Heart

Many people are aware of the significant lifestyle factors that can affect heart health, such as diet, exercise, and smoking. However, for individuals living with heart defects, even seemingly innocuous everyday circumstances can have an impact on their condition. These subtle influences often fly under the radar, unnoticed by the majority of us leading our daily lives. By illuminating these lesser-known factors, we aim to empower those with heart defects to navigate their environments with more awareness and confidence.

  1. Altitude Changes: Higher altitudes can put additional strain on the heart due to lower oxygen levels, potentially causing complications for individuals with heart defects.
  1. Temperature Extremes: Both very cold and very hot weather can put extra strain on the heart. Cold weather can constrict blood vessels, and hot weather can lead to dehydration, both of which can exacerbate heart problems.  If you have a child with a heart defect who doesn’t like to be in the cold or hot - listen to them.  We like to keep cooling towels with us at all times during hot summer months to be easily placed on the back of the neck.  This is also information that should be shared with other adults who interact with your child (school, camps, sitters, and family members).
  1. Emotional Stress: Strong emotions, both positive and negative, can stimulate the release of stress hormones, which can increase heart rate and blood pressure, potentially worsening symptoms in people with heart defects.
  1. Dental Health: There is a connection between oral health and heart health. Infections in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and reach the heart, leading to complications like endocarditis, an infection of the heart's inner lining.  It’s important to check with your child’s cardiologist to know if they require an antibiotic before dental cleanings.  Many children with heart defects will need this extra protection.  
  1. Certain Medications: Some over-the-counter medications, like decongestants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can affect blood pressure and heart rate, which may cause problems for people with heart defects.
  1. Pregnancy: It can put additional strain on the heart due to increased blood volume and cardiac output, making it a potentially high-risk period for women with heart defects.
  1. Alcohol and Caffeine: Both substances can increase heart rate and blood pressure, potentially impacting heart rhythm and function, which can be a problem for those with heart defects.
  1. Certain Dietary Supplements and Energy Drinks: Some supplements, particularly those for weight loss or energy enhancement, can contain stimulants that may affect heart rhythm and blood pressure.
  1. Air Quality: Poor air quality and pollution can cause or exacerbate respiratory issues, which can indirectly affect heart health by reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches the heart.  Most online weather apps have an air quality section.  Pay special attention to air quality guidance regardless of age when a heart defect is present.  
  1. Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain and decreased cardiovascular fitness. However, it's important that exercise for those with heart defects is undertaken under medical supervision, as excessive or strenuous exercise can also potentially lead to complications.  Most cardiologists are starting to change their views around exercise tolerance and recognize that kids (especially young children) are able to self regulate; they will push themselves only as far as their bodies will allow them.  Again, it is important to trust that your child knows how their body is feeling and partnering with their medical team on the right level of activity is always recommended.
  1. Essential Oils: While they are often promoted for their potential health benefits, certain essential oils can have unintended effects on the cardiovascular system. For example, oils like rosemary, thyme, and peppermint can potentially increase heart rate and blood pressure. Always consult with a healthcare professional before using essential oils, especially if you have a heart defect or other cardiovascular conditions.
  1. Going Upside Down: Inverting your body in yoga poses, while playing on monkey bars, riding a roller coaster, or flipping a little one upside down in a playful manner can change the dynamics of blood flow in the body. Normally, the heart works against gravity to pump blood up to the brain and down to the legs. When you invert your body, gravity can assist the flow of blood to the brain but may make it more difficult for the blood to flow back down.  For most people, this temporary change isn't harmful. However, for someone with a heart defect, particularly those with conditions that already compromise the heart's ability to pump blood efficiently or who have had a surgical intervention that changes normal blood flow, this could potentially cause problems. It can increase the workload of the heart and potentially exacerbate symptoms of their condition.  If you or a loved one has a heart defect and is considering activities that involve inversion, it's very important to discuss this with your healthcare provider first. They can provide advice based on the specifics of the condition and the overall health of the individual.  It’s also good to notify friends and relatives of these concerns ahead of time as well-intended fun could have unintended consequences.
  1. Dehydration: This can cause a decrease in blood volume, which makes the heart work harder to pump blood, thus increasing the heart rate.  It is a great idea to always keep water with you at all times.  Also, it’s a great idea to keep the fridge stocked with Gatorade, Pedialyte, or any other fluid that helps to increase electrolytes.
  1. Meal Size: Eating a large meal, especially one high in carbohydrates, can cause a temporary increase in heart rate as the body works to digest the food.

It's important to understand that while these fluctuations are generally normal, if you notice a persistent increase or decrease in your heart rate, or if it's accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, you should seek medical attention.

In Conclusion:

The world is full of potential influences on heart health, many of which we interact with daily without a second thought. For those living with heart defects, understanding these influences — from temperature extremes and emotional stress to the effects of essential oils — is vital for maintaining optimal health. Armed with this knowledge, individuals with heart defects can make informed decisions and mitigate potential risks in their daily lives. Of course, it is always essential to consult with healthcare professionals when making any significant changes that might impact one's health. Knowledge, vigilance, and professional guidance are the pillars of living well with a heart defect.