Man considering his heart health

9 Heart Health Myths You Should Know About

Published: January 2022

How much do you know about heart health? Unless you're following medical news closely, chances are that you might be harboring some misunderstandings about what it means to live a cardio-friendly lifestyle—and, as a result, might have fallen into some habits that are doing your heart more harm than good…maybe even increasing your risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Let's see whether you've fallen prey to any of these 9 common myths about heart health…and how you can adjust your lifestyle so that you can keep that ticker strong for many years to come.

1. Young people don't need to worry about heart disease

Man dismissing heart issue eating low-nutrition food

While it's true that heart disease is more common among people over the age of 65, about 10 percent of heart problems occur in people under the age of 45.

Your daily choices play a role in heart health. Spending your days molded to the living room couch and eating foods with poor nutritional value, high in sugars, trans and saturated fats, can lead to accumulated plaque in blood vessels, significantly increasing the risk factor of future heart problems, regardless of age.

Another factor that can increase the heart disease risk in younger populations is type 2 diabetes, which is becoming more prevalent in children, teens and young adults.
The main takeaway: It's never too early to be proactive about heart health.

2. People should avoid exercise if they have a heart condition

Man finishing exercises that benefit his heart health

If you've experienced a cardiovascular event, it's understandable if you're hesitant about engaging in physical activity. Yes, running a marathon or spending hours at the gym after you've had a heart attack is not the best idea, but having a regular exercise routine offers many heart health benefits.

Research suggests that engaging in regular, full-body movement strengthens the heart, improving blood flow and delivery.

What's more, a 2020 study published in the European Heart Journal revealed that the chance of exercise triggering a cardiovascular event is extremely low.

Plus, having a regular sweat session is also terrific for your brain and whole-body health!

That being said: If you've been inactive for a long time or have a heart condition, it is best to check with your doctor before starting a new routine.

3. If you feel fine, you probably have normal blood pressure

This is a huge and common myth! There's a reason high blood pressure is called the "silent killer"—you can have high blood pressure without knowing. That's because hypertension can develop slowly over time due to different causes, such as diet, genetics, or a sedentary lifestyle.

Monitoring your blood pressure and making lifestyle changes when needed will help you reduce the risk of heart disease.

4. Chest pain is the main sign of a heart attack

Another myth busted! Experiencing intense chest pain, shortness of breath and pain extending to the left hand (specifically ring and pinky fingers) is often thought to be a sign of a myocardial infarction (heart attack). Unfortunately, over 60 percent of people who have a heart attack don't have any of these symptoms, making it a "silent" myocardial infarction.

5. Having enough "good" cholesterol can offset the "bad" cholesterol

Your body uses cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and build cell membranes. However, having too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in your blood can increase the risk of coronary artery disease and other heart health problems because it can lead to buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.

And no, you cannot offset the effects of high LDL levels by raising your high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Building sustainable habits and regularly eating heart-healthy foods is the best way to help your body maintain a healthy HDL:LDL ratio.

6. Fats are bad for your heart

The blanket statement that "fats are bad for your heart" is a myth. While it's true that fats like butter aren't the best for you, fish oil like omega-3s EPA and DHA do wonders for your heart.

That's because they offer monounsaturated (MUFAS) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS), which have been shown to be good for cardiovascular health. You'll find these healthy fats in a variety of food sources like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

7. Red wine is great for a healthy heart

It's true that having an occasional glass of red wine throughout the week can have heart-protecting properties—the resveratrol found in this drink also makes it heart-friendly.
However, emerging research has shown that light to moderate drinking of alcohol of any source also behooves heart health. But before you pour another glass of your drink of choice, keep in mind that moderation is key. Heavy drinking is linked to several health risks, including heart disease.

8. Red meat is bad for your heart

Some people believe that any amount of red meat is bad for you because it can affect your cholesterol levels—a myth we're happy to bust! It's true that your diet impacts your health, but you don't have to swear off red meats to keep your heart healthy. The secret is to eat lean, unprocessed red meat in moderation, along with an overall healthy diet, which helps improve heart health.

9. You only get heart disease if it runs in the family

Having a family history of heart disease means you have a higher risk of developing heart problems, but it's not set in stone—you can always take steps to reduce the risk and stay heart healthy.

But you can also experience heart disease without a family history, which is why leading a healthy lifestyle is imperative for heart health.

5 ways to keep your heart healthy

Aging woman using exercise to strengthen her heart

Whether you're cruising through your 20s or living your best life in your 60s, maintaining a healthy heart is essential for a long, fulfilling life. Don't know where to start? Here are five steps you can take to build a strong foundation for a heart-healthy tomorrow.

  • Sweat for heart health

    —Finding a physical activity you enjoy and perform consistently is the key to helping reduce the risk of heart disease. Whether it's swimming, Pilates, or running, making time for body movement at least five days a week for 30 minutes a day will help you strengthen your heart muscle and improve blood flow, reducing the risk of heart disease.
    Pro-tip: Mix it up! Target and tone up large muscle groups by including resistance training like light weightlifting to your routine twice a week.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods

    —That's right, you can eat your way to a healthy heart! Incorporating nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods into your meals is a great way to maintain heart health. An easy way to achieve this is by following the Mediterranean diet, which include fish, plenty of leafy greens and veggies, fruits, whole grains, and healthy, unsaturated fats.
  • Keep stress in check

    —Unmanaged stress levels have been linked with cardiovascular events. That's why working on your "zen" is a vital part of staying heart, mind and body healthy. Adding meditation to your daily habits, getting restful sleep, and staying active will help you have a healthy response to stress.
  • Stay on top of your health

    —Annual checkups, especially as you age, can shed light on any health concerns that might affect your heart (or the rest of you).
  • Build a strategic nutritional plan

    —In addition to eating heart-friendly foods, complement your nutrition choices with nutrients that support heart health, such as fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-7s, CoQ10, vitamins D and K, magnesium, and probiotics. That's because your body uses these nutrients to regulate and maintain many biological processes associated with a healthy heart. Be sure to speak with your doctor to find the best strategy for you.

Learn more about heart health by checking the Ask the Doctor YouTube video where Dr. Gossard busts more heart health myths and explains the confusion behind these commonly held beliefs.

References

By: Jessica Monge, Health & Wellness Writer

Jessica Monge has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences & neuroscience and a master's degree in comparative studies and related languages from Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a tutor, freelance writer and editor before joining Life Extension as a Copywriter.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD