The Truth About Some "Heart-Healthy" Myths
You've heard about heart disease. For starters, it's the number one cause of death in the United States. Over 600,000 Americans die from it every year. Heart disease is more common in certain parts of the country, like in the South. Heart disease is also more common among certain ethnic groups, like Caucasians and African Americans. The key risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
You might have noticed that most of the key risk factors are related to lifestyle choices. What does this tell us? That heart disease is largely preventable. This is both good and bad news. The bad news is that, as a country, we're not doing a very good job with keeping ourselves healthy. The good news is that it's possible to change this.
Here's where you come in. You do what you can to stay healthy and keep your heart in good shape. Maybe you talk to your doctor regularly. Maybe you try to exercise, eat right, and manage your stress better. But we all know there is a lot of misinformation being shared. It's tough to know if mainstream media is telling us the whole truth when it comes to our health. "Hearthealthy" fad diets seem to be just about everywhere these days.
Who to believe? Is there any truth to these "hearthealthy" myths? I'd like to take a moment now to discuss a few of them, so that you'll be better prepared to take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Common Myths And A Few Truths About What Makes a Healthy Heart
"Myth: Eating a lowfat diet is the healthiest for your heart." Dietary fat has been given a bad rap for decades. Eating fat was supposed to clog your arteries and make you put on weight. Honestly, the witch hunt against fat needs to stopnow. More and more evidence is turning up that says eating fat does not make you fat. In fact, healthy fatsincluding avocado, eggs, and coconutis important for your health. They can even lower your risk of getting heart disease. (A few exceptions: trans fats and partially hydrogenated fatsboth "manmade"are actually unhealthy. Avoid these.) Many fat sources like fish, olive oil, and nuts also have antiinflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation in the body has been linked not only to heart disease, but also many other health problems including diabetes and Alzheimer's.
What's more, most processed foods labeled as "fatfree" or "lowfat" tend to be high in sugar. And sugar has been directly linked with chronic health problems like heart disease. The lesson: don't be afraid to eat healthy natural fats. Your heart will thank you for it "You can't control your heart rate." Okay there's quite a bit of truth to this one, actually. We cannot consciously control our pulse (how fast our heart beats). But there are things we can do to help keep our hearts beating at a normal healthy pace. The most important thing we can do is manage our stress levels. When we become anxious, overworked, and overtired, our heart rates tend to increase. Elevated heart rate (known as tachycardia) can lead to lightheadedness, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Some solutions? Practice meditation or some other relaxing activity or hobby. Get adequate sleep. Don't use too many stimulants (like coffee) or depressants (like alcohol). Avoid automatic negative thoughts, and minimize drama in your life. Learn to look for the benefits in every negative situation. The mindbody connection is real, and so much of our health has to do with our mindset and outlook.
"Myth: The best exercise for your heart is cardio." Not necessarily. For some people, doing long bouts of cardiovascular exerciselike jogging or cyclingcan actually be harmful. This is because doing too much cardio can strain the heart. What's more, cardio isn't always enough to promote excess fat loss if weight is an issue. Building muscle mass is important, because muscle burns more energy than body fat. It's important to talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. For most people, a good mix of cardio and strength training is ideal. This helps improve endurance, blood flow, and strength of your muscles and bones.
"Myth: You should eat dark chocolate and drink red wine because it's good for your heart." This is another one of those "not necessarily" myths. It's true that there are components called "antioxidants" in dark chocolate and red wine that have been shown to be good for your heart. But chocolateeven dark chocolatehas a lot of sugar, and too much alcohol consumption can cause a lot of damage to a person's health. The truth is, you don't need to eat chocolate or drink wine to keep your heart healthy. With enough fresh veggies, lean meats, and healthy fats in your diet, you can get enough antioxidants. If you do choose to have dark chocolate or wine, the key is moderation. Know what a single serving size is and stick to that.
"Myth: All heart attacks come with chest pain." A heart attack is a serious medical condition that happens when oxygen and blood flow to the heart is reduced. It is a scary condition associated with heart disease. True, chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack, but it's definitely not the only symptom. Other symptoms include pain or "tightness" in the arm, chest, or jaw; dizziness, lightheadedness, sudden sweating; heartburn, hiccuping, or vomiting; shortness of breath, and anxiety. Heart disease is no joke, but it can be managed and even prevented with simple and effective changes to our lifestyles. We shouldn't have to rely on pills and faddiets. By improving our knowledge and understanding of what is and isn't "hearthealthy", we empower ourselves to make better life choices. Our health is in our hands.
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