This time of year, it’s common to see Valentine hearts pretty much everywhere. And while it’s great to celebrate with your loved ones in the spirit of St. Valentine, there’s another heart you shouldn’t be neglecting (hint: it’s the one keeping you alive!). If you’ve been keeping up with our blog for awhile, you already know how to recognize the signs of heart attacks and strategies to maintain your cardiovascular health (and if you haven’t seen those blog posts yet, go check them out!). Today, we’re addressing common myths about heart disease, just in time for American Heart Month.
MYTH: Heart failure occurs when your heart stops beating.
FACT: That’s actually cardiac arrest! Heart failure, on the other hand, simply means that your heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should. The symptoms of these two conditions also differ: a person in cardiac arrest may fall unconscious and stop breathing, while a person with heart failure may experience a persistent cough, shortness of breath, or swelling of the feet and ankles.
MYTH: Women, especially young women, don’t need to worry about heart disease.
FACT: Heart disease kills over a fourth of women and men, so no one should get too complacent. The same risk factors that predispose men to heart disease (such as obesity, high blood pressure, and Type II diabetes) also put women at risk. However, men are more likely to get heart attacks in their mid-50s, while women are more likely to get them in their mid-60s.
MYTH: It’s dangerous to exercise if you have heart disease.
FACT: If anything, it’s dangerous not to! If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, you should make an exercise plan that works with you for your doctor and be sure to follow it. Exercise helps strengthen your heart muscle, and it’s been found to reduce the likelihood of people with heart disease having a first or another heart attack. Studies have also shown that heart attack survivors who implement healthy changes and start exercising regularly tend to live longer than those who don’t.
MYTH: You don’t need to think about your cholesterol levels until you’re middle-aged.
FACT: You should get your cholesterol levels checked beginning at age 20 (and maybe even earlier if heart disease runs in your family) and at least every 5 years after that. Meanwhile, you should continue eating a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats and getting enough physical activity, so that your cholesterol remains at a healthy level.
MYTH: If heart disease runs in your family, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.
FACT: Genetics is just one piece of the puzzle. Although you may be at higher risk if you have a family history of heart disease, you can still take steps to significantly reduce your chances of developing heart disease: get enough physical activity, keep your cholesterol level, blood pressure, and blood sugar at a healthy level, and quit or don’t start smoking.
Despite an estimated 80% of cardiovascular disease being preventable, it continues to claim the lives of nearly 1 in 3 Americans today. This Valentine’s Day, show yourself some love and commit to keeping your real heart in the best shape possible. And as always, stay healthy and stay safe!
–The Wellness & Stress Clinic Team