When we think about the state of our hearts, we have a tendency to reflect on love and romance. After all, there are millions of songs about heartbreak, and just as many movies and television shows about finding someone who makes our heart flutter with happiness. We picture red-paper hearts cut for Valentine's Day, not the three-dimensional organ that beats within us. Too often, we don't consider the health of our hearts until it's too late, and such an oversight is more tragic than a broken heart caused by a first romance. It's important to know the facts about how your heart works and what it needs to function at its best, but there are just as many myths about heart health as there are songs about heartbreak. In this article, we'll take a look at five such myths and set the record straight.
In the movies, no one ever doubts that they're having a heart attack -- they clutch their chest, gasp for breath and start to sweat. And you may know that pain on the left side of chest and the arm is a classic indicator. It's true that these characteristics describe a heart attack, but only sometimes. Many people suffer from heart attacks but write the symptoms off as heartburn or fatigue. Women also appear to experience heart attacks differently, which can cause delay in getting treatment. A woman having a heart attack may not experience chest pain, but may instead have stomach, back, jaw or neck pain. She may also have trouble breathing, suffer from nausea and feel overwhelmingly fatigued. When it comes to your heart, it's important to consider the source of all symptoms.
Trans fats are often portrayed as the big bad wolf, out to get your heart. As a result, restaurants proclaim that those fats aren't used in their kitchens, and grocery stores are fully stocked with trans-fat-free items. It's true that trans fats are no friend to your heart, but blindly buying up items with trans-fat-free labels isn't the way to keep your heart protected. For one thing, products that claim to be trans-fat-free can still contain up to half a gram of trans fats and maintain the label. If the serving size is small, and you consume the whole package, then you could easily gobble up a good deal of trans fats. And a product low in trans fats could still be chock-full of saturated fats, which are No. 2 on the heart's enemy list. To make sure you're feeding your heart with the good stuff, read the entire food label, considering serving size, total fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar, just to name a few.
Many symptoms of heart problems often get written off as stress or anxiety. Let's say you're at work, and your heart starts racing. It's possible that stress is the culprit -- your boss may have just walked by -- but it's also possible that a fast heartbeat at rest is the sign of a deeper problem than your boss seeing what you were looking at on your computer. It's possible that you suffer from an irregular heartbeat that requires medication. Similarly, if you often feel like you're hyperventilating, it's easy to chalk it up to anxiety, but it's worth considering whether you have a heart problem.
In today's busy world, we may think that stress and anxiety are just a part of life, things that must be endured. But even if you're sure that your racing heartbeat is due to stress, you're still damaging your heart in the long run. Eventually, a constantly speeding heart will weaken a heart's ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. That means that stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation and relaxing baths are just as important to your heart as a healthy diet and regular exercise.
On the last page, we mentioned that age is one risk factor for heart problems; as you get older, you have a greater likelihood of things like heart disease or heart attack. But that doesn't mean that heart health is a concern only for middle-aged people. It's possible to start developing coronary artery disease as a teenager, and people in their 20s and 30s have suffered from heart attacks. A heart-healthy lifestyle needs to begin in childhood, so that kids don't develop bad habits they carry with them to adulthood. To give children the best possible heart start, parents should encourage them to exercise, limit time spent in front of the television or computer screen, and serve healthy, well-balanced meals. And if you're a parent looking to jump-start a sedentary child, the best thing to do is to set a good example and get moving yourself. Making exercise and healthy eating a family priority will go a long way to ensuring long-term heart health.
We know that people who eat poorly and don't exercise have an increased risk of heart trouble, but the opposite doesn't hold true. Just because you're at a healthy weight doesn't mean that your heart is healthy. Most notably, your heart's health is affected by genetics; a family history of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure puts you at risk for the same conditions, no matter your weight. There are other uncontrollable risk factors as well, such as age and gender -- problems generally increase as you age, and males are more at risk for heart issues than pre-menopausal women. No matter how many miles a day you run, you need to see a doctor on a regular basis to monitor your cardiovascular health.