For men, heavy drinking may damage hearts over time

(Reuters Health) – Men with a history of heavy drinking are more likely to have stiff walls in the arteries that supply blood to the heart, an important measure of heart risk, according to a recent study.

While lighter drinking may be linked to better heart health, heavy drinking is linked to worse heart health in both the short and long term, the researchers write in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

"Arterial stiffness is an important indicator of cardiovascular aging and is known to be strongly associated with cardiovascular disease and related mortality," said lead author Darragh O'Neill of University College London in England.

Stiff-walled arteries are strongly related to high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, among other diseases, O'Neill told Reuters Health by email.

RELATED: Ways to make 2017 your healthiest year yet:

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Eat smart

Some foods aren't as healthy as they seem, and sometimes "reduced-fat" is actually worse for you than the original food. Take peanut butter, for example: Reduced fat peanut butter often has more refined carbohydrates and sugars -- with the fat in original PB replaced with ingredients like "corn syrup solids, sugar and molasses (read: even more sugar), plus starchy fillers." Yuck.

Just eat the real stuff, in healthy amounts.

Read more: 12 foods nutritionists won't eat

Take a dance class

I don't care if it's ballet, swing, or zumba -- taking a dance class can burn hundreds of calories in just one hour, and it's way more fun than running on the treadmill. Plus, you can do it with your friends, which will make you much more inclined to go!

Read more: The fastest calorie-burning dance classes, ranked

Drink smoothies

Smoothies shouldn't replace meals entirely (unless you're looking for a light breakfast!) but including them in your schedule is an easy way to add essential nutrients to your diet and help you detox. And trust us, if you use the right fruit, it *won't* taste like grass. 

Read more: The ultimate green smoothie you'll actually enjoy

Take time to de-stress

It helps with your mental health, you physical health, your appearance ... really your overall well-being. Take time to de-stress from the big stuff, and seek out what's adding unnecessary stress to your life. Then do your best to remove those unnecessary factors all together.

Our most important tip? Start learning to say "no" more.

Read more: 7 easy ways to reduce stress

Travel

We can't stress this enough. There's nothing like experiencing new places, new cultures, and meeting new people. There's nothing that makes you feel entirely existential and completely human at the same time.

Travel.

Read more: 17 must-see destinations to visit in 2017

Take care of your mental health

Take care of your mental health this year -- and that of those you love. Talk. Listen. Do your best to understand -- and seek help when necessary.

Mental health should never be hidden away or brushed under the rug.

Read more: How Kate Middleton is causing a "national shift" in mental health discussion

Build yourself a home gym

Create the perfect home workout system for you. If you're a private person and don't really like working out alongside others at the gym, all you need to do is invest in the right home products for your best workout -- and it doesn't have to be a massive treadmill or expensive weights system.

Read more: The ultimate home workout gear to kickstart 2017 (all under $130)

Don't be afraid of the elements

Love running but hate doing it when the weather gets freezing? Don't be afraid of the elements -- just stock up on the right gear so you can get out there. 

Read more: Cold weather workout gear to keep you motivated this winter

Meditate

Seriously -- try it. It just might change your life.

Meditating can be something you spend 20 minutes on, or 2 hours. It's completely up to you, and it's entirely for you. So go on. Those who love it have experienced better sleep, less stress, better peace of mind ... it might even make you younger. Sounds pretty great, right? 

Read more: Study: Meditation could make your brain 7 years younger

Get regular health checks -- and check yourself

A story has gone viral recently about an early cancer diagnosis being triggered by lemons.  In actuality, there was a graphic released that showed lemons with various imperfections along with the caption "what breast cancer can look and feel like." One woman saw this ad and immediately knew she had breast cancer.

Go to your doctor for your yearly check-ups, check yourself regularly for anything off about your health, and when in doubt, ask.

Read more: Woman credits early cancer diagnosis to viral lemon photo

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To examine the link between long-term drinking and arterial stiffness, the study team used data on nearly 4,000 British government employees originally recruited between 1985 and 1988. Nearly three-quarters were male and most were white.

Every four to five years, participants reported on their drinking habits. And starting between 2007 and 2009, researchers measured their arterial stiffness every few years with a technique known as pulse wave velocity (PVW) estimation.

Compared to females, males had much higher rates of heavy drinking (defined as more than seven beers or glasses of wine per week or more than 14 shots of liquor) and stiffer arteries, both at the first measurement and at later assessments.

Men who were consistently heavy drinkers had higher initial measures of arterial stiffness than men who tended to drink moderately.

At the follow-up, men who had once been heavy drinkers showed greater increases in artery stiffness compared with consistently moderate drinkers.

SEE: Unhealthiest foods:

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Soda and Diet Soda

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Processed meats

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Soy products

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Sugary cereal

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Candy

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Fried foods

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In fact, while all groups saw an increase in artery stiffness over time, heavy drinking men were the only group to experience a significantly accelerated change.

"The risks (or any potential benefits of lighter alcohol consumption) of alcohol consumption need to be considered in a broader context than cardiovascular disease," said Lawrie Beilin, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Western Australia who was not involved in the study.

Beilin said people often underestimate their own drinking and stressed that the stakes are high. In addition to heart problems, Beilin noted, drinking can increase the risk of common cancers like breast, colon, pancreatic, and throat cancer, even for more moderate drinkers.

"This is aside from aspects of heavier or intermittent alcohol effects on social behavior, road and other accidents and suicide," Beilin said by email.

"The most important implication," O'Neill said, "is that long-term consistently-heavy drinking can lead to increased risk of stiffened arteries, particularly amongst males, but also that male former drinkers are at risk of accelerated rates of arterial stiffness compared to moderate drinkers in early old age."

SOURCE: Journal of the American Heart Association, online February 20, 2017.

Check out 7 of the healthiest foods you should be eating:

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7 of the Healthiest Foods You Should Be Eating But Aren't

1. Kale

On top of delivering a raft of cancer-fighting antioxidants, kale is one of the vegetable world’s top sources of vitamin A, which promotes eye and skin health and may help strengthen the immune system. It’s a good source of heart-healthy fiber and a 1-cup serving has almost as much vitamin C as an orange. What’s not to love?

Crispy Kale With Lemon-Yogurt Dip

Roast kale with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic until it's crunchy to create this healthy kind of potato chip.

Click here for the recipe: Crispy Kale With Lemon-Yogurt Dip

2. Sardines

Sardines are one of the best sources of heart-healthy, mood-boosting omega-3 fats, and they’re packed with vitamin D. And because sardines are small and low on the food chain, they don’t harbor lots of toxins as bigger fish can.

Grilled Sardines with Herbed Fennel-and-Olive Salad

Sardines cook quickly because they're an oily fish and in this recipe they are topped with a tangy salad.

Click here for the recipe: Grilled Sardines with Herbed Fennel-and-Olive Salad

3. Pomegranate

This vibrant fruit is chock–full of antioxidants, natural chemicals found in plants that mop up harmful free radicals, which damage tissues and might contribute to a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Don’t have time to prepare the fruit? You can get many of the same benefits from drinking a glass of pomegranate juice!

Endive & Pomegranate Salad

Please your guests with the contrasting textures and flavors of crunchy Belgian endives, juicy oranges and tart ruby-red pomegranate seeds. The addition of cooked shrimp makes this an elegant first course.

Click here for the recipe: Endive & Pomegranate Salad

4. Oatmeal

Oatmeal has 4 grams of fiber per cup and research suggests that increasing your intake of soluble fiber by 5 to 10 grams each day could result in a 5 percent drop in “bad” LDL cholesterol. Also, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, eating a breakfast made with “slow-release” carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, three hours before you exercise might help you burn more fat.

Baked Banana Oatmeal

This breakfast is equal parts comforting and delicious.

Click here for the recipe: Baked Banana Oatmeal

5. Quinoa

Quinoa is a delicately flavored whole grain packed with fiber and protein and, to top it off, it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook. That combination of fiber and protein has an extra value too: research shows that the two together can help you feel full for longer.

Quinoa Salad With Sugar Snap Peas

Put your newly purchased quinoa to use with this salad, which is perfect for a packed lunch.

Click here for the recipe: Quinoa Salad With Sugar Snap Peas

6. Kefir

Think yogurt in a glass. This drinkable fermented dairy beverage is packed with beneficial probiotics that may help give your immune system a little extra edge, plus 29 percent of your daily value of calcium per 8-ounce serving. Look for it in your supermarket’s dairy section; choose plain for less sugar and fewer calories or fresh fruit flavors, such as peach and raspberry, for extra taste.

Banana Spice Smoothie

This healthy banana smoothie is made with vanilla kefir and spiked with warming spices.

Click here for the recipe: Banana Spice Smoothie

7. Lentils

Lentils are a versatile, budget-friendly and healthy addition to many dinner recipes. A half-cup of cooked lentils contains over 9 grams of protein and a jaw-dropping 8 grams of dietary fiber. Lentils are also a good source of iron and an excellent source of folate.

Lentils With Red Wine and Herbs

With herbs and a scattering of mâche (a sweet and tender green), the stewy lentils become a perfect combination of soup and salad. French green lentils work best here.

Click here for the recipe: Lentils With Red Wine and Herbs

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