We all know that eating well, exercising, and avoiding smoking are key to heart health, but some pleasant habits may be beneficial, too.

Go to bed earlier

Getting enough sleep is important for heart health, but a new study published suggests that when we go to sleep matters, too, especially for women. The European Society of Cardiology reported that going to sleep between 10 and 11 p.m. is associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease, compared with earlier or later bedtimes. (The benefit comes from being asleep early—not just being in bed.)

The study included 88,026 people, who were followed for an average of close to six years. Women showed a larger response: Compared with women who went to sleep between 10 and 11 p.m., those who went to sleep before 10 p.m. or at midnight or later had a 24 to 25 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Women who fell asleep between 11 p.m. and midnight had a 12 percent higher risk. Among men, only going to bed before 10 p.m. increased risk.

Take a bath

Choosing a bath instead of a shower appears to protect against cardiovascular disease, researchers reported in the journal Heart BMJ. In an observational study of 30, 076 people, researchers found that bathing almost daily reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, total strokes, and intracerebral hemorrhage.

Heat may explain the benefits. It increases core body temperature, heart rate, and blood flow, and is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure. In fact, it has effects that are similar to those of exercise. Repeated bathing or use of a sauna is believed to improve vascular function over the long term.The benefits of bathing remained statistically significant even after adjusting for diet and exercise.

Drink coffee

Two studies presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 71st Annual Scientific Session reported that drinking two to three cups of coffee each day is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and atrial fibrillation (A-fib).

For the first study, researchers examined data from 382,535 people without known heart disease to see if coffee drinking played a role in the development of heart disease or stroke during the 10 years of follow-up. In general, having two to three cups of coffee a day was associated with the greatest benefit, translating to a 10 to 15 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart failure, a heart rhythm problem, or dying for any reason. The risk of stroke or heart-related death was lowest among people who drank one cup of coffee a day.

The second study included 34,279 people with some form of cardiovascular disease. Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was associated with lower odds of dying, compared with having no coffee.

Importantly, drinking any amount of coffee was not associated with a higher risk of heart rhythm problems, including A-fib. People with A-fib who drank one cup of coffee a day were nearly 20 percent less likely to die than coffee nondrinkers.

The benefits may be due to antioxidants found in coffee. Coffee beans have more than 100 biologically active compounds. These substances can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, boost metabolism, inhibit the gut’s absorption of fat, and block receptors known to be involved with abnormal heart rhythms. Of note, the diterpenes in unfiltered coffee may actually increase the risk of coronary heart disease. More research is needed in this area. With all of these studies, other factors may be at play. People who go to bed earlier, drink coffee, or take baths may also eat more vegetables and exercise more, which could account for the heart-healthy benefits, but there’s no risk to adding these healthy habits to your routine.

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