Shattering the top 8 heart health myths

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Shattering the top 8 heart health myths

In honor of American Heart Month, let’s take a look at 10 myths regarding our hearts.  American Heart Month is all about raising awareness of cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of Americans.  Every year more people in the United States die from heart disease than all forms of cancer combined.  There are however, many misconceptions about heart disease and how it affects our health.  Here are eight commonly held beliefs that it’s time to clear up the confusion over them:

1.  Women are protected from heart disease

We may think of men only having heart attacks or strokes but cardiovascular disease is also the number one killer of women in the U.S.  Part of this belief is the fact women are usually older if they do have heart issues and symptoms of heart disease can be different in women than in men.  This makes it likely that heart disease in women can go unrecognized.  Fortunately, there have been significant advances in the treatment and prevention of heart attacks in women especially.  It is more likely a woman will be treated the same as any man who is exhibiting signs of heart disease.

2.  Only intense exercise is best for optimal heart health

Engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise at least 4-5 days a week does increase cardiovascular fitness.  But you don’t have to participate in running or an intense exercise routine to gain heart benefits.  If the thought of an intense, hard workout is not for you and you would have a hard time doing this on a regular basis, then find an alternative.  However, sitting on the couch all day is unadvisable also.  The key is to strike a balance.  Any activity you can fit in a day is good – take the stairs instead of an elevator, walk around a shopping mall, rake leaves, take you dog on a long walk – can all be good forms of physical activity working your heart muscle.

3.  Eating certain “superfoods” can prevent heart disease

There is no one food that does it all preventing heart disease.  Our heart health depends a lot on our overall dietary pattern of eating. The best advice is to consume a wide variety of foods but with the emphasis on at least 6 or more servings of fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, and whole grains.  Also include heart healthy fish containing heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, herring, and sardines.  Use more monounsaturated fats such as olive oil which has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease.

4.  I’m thin so I don’t need to exercise

Just because you are thin does not excuse you from exercising.  Even thin people can develop heart disease.  Although overweight to obese individuals are at a higher risk, people at an optimal weight can still suffer from heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure.  Exercise is beneficial to everyone as it reduces the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – all risk factors that can lead to heart disease.  Regular physical activity has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.

5.  I can no longer eat eggs

This myth has been debunked several years ago and thank goodness.  Eggs are an excellent source of nutrition – one large egg has only 77 calories, 5 grams of healthy fat and 6 grams of protein.  This same egg will contain approximately 200 milligrams of cholesterol but for the vast majority of us, an egg has little effect on our cholesterol levels and can even raise our “good” cholesterol.  Eggs are also packed with additional nutrients such as selenium, vitamin B12, and folate.  So go ahead and enjoy eggs.

6.  My genes are my biggest determinate of heart disease

Although genes play a role in some people, 90 percent of cardiovascular disease is based on lifestyle choices such as eating a poor diet, smoking, or not exercising.  When we practice poor health habits such as these for many years, eventually it can affect your heart health by raising your risk for high blood cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.  But if you are genetically predisposed to heart disease, take action by making positive lifestyle changes and follow your doctor’s advice on any medications you should use to control any signs of heart disease.

7.  I will know if I have high blood pressure

Very unlikely.  High blood pressure is nicknamed the “silent killer” for a reason.  It has no symptoms until a heart attack of stroke occur.  Having your blood pressure monitored regularly and knowing what your numbers mean can help you better manage a problem with your blood pressure if it is high.

8.  Having a bypass surgery or stent will fix heart disease

There have been tremendous advancements made over the decades on diagnosing and treating heart disease.  Thousands of lives have been saved thanks to these advances which include bypass surgery and stents.  However, neither of these procedures cures heart disease but they can increase a person’s life expectancy by lowering their risk of a possible heart attack.

Heart bypass surgery is a procedure in which a surgeon takes blood vessels from another part of your body to go around, or bypass, a blocked artery.  This allows more blood and oxygen to be able to flow to your heart again. 

Coronary artery stents are used to prop open an artery that is blocked and is left there permanently.  A stent is a tiny wire mesh that is put in place in an artery that has been narrowed by a buildup of fatty deposits called plaque.  Plaque reduces blood flow and if it is an artery leading to the heart, this could result in a heart attack.  Stents help keep coronary arteries open reducing the chance of a heart attack.