Know Your Heart: Common myths about heart health
Dr. Jessica Joseph-Alexis, a cardiologist with TriStar Health, shares the top three changes we can make to improve heart health.
I’m young; do I really need to be worried about heart health? Heart disease runs in my family; there is nothing I can do to stop it. It’s true there are some risk factors that we can’t control, but there are many questions and myths out there that can prevent people from choosing the right habits to prevent heart disease. Dr. Jessica Joseph-Alexis, a Cardiologist with TriStar Health, shared the most common misunderstandings about heart disease and the top three changes we can make to improve heart health. Her biggest advice: Prevention is key!
Myths about heart disease
Myth 1: Heart disease only affects men — The American Heart Association says heart disease kills more women than men, and it is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. “Heart disease is not just about heart attacks; it’s about total cardiovascular health,” said Dr. Joseph-Alexis. She adds that heart disease in women is different and may not present with the most talked about symptom of chest pain. “It’s more subtle. Shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue and just not feeling like yourself are all possible symptoms of heart disease and reasons to talk to your primary care physician.”
Myth 2: I’m young, so I don’t need to worry about heart disease — While a heart disease diagnosis is not common in younger people, Dr. Joseph-Alexis says prevention is key at this age. “We can protect ourselves in the long run if we exercise, watch our diet and refrain from smoking,” Dr. Joseph-Alexis says. A healthy lifestyle can make heart disease less likely in the future.
Myth 3: My family has a history of heart disease, and making changes won’t matter — Family history is a risk factor that we can’t control, but we can take steps to create habits that will make a difference in our overall health. “We can make sure your cholesterol is down, blood pressure is controlled and work on diabetes prevention. Living a heart-healthy life can help prevent and control heart disease in those who have a family history,” says Dr. Joseph-Alexis.
Three most important steps to heart health
Even if you have risk factors, these three steps can help keep you achieve a healthier heart and lower your chances of heart disease.
- Keep moving — Physicians recommend 30 minutes of moderate activity every day. “Keep yourself moving!” says Dr. Joseph-Alexis. “Something as simple as dancing around the living room can make a big difference!”
- Watch what you eat — A heart-healthy diet should include foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, sugar and salt. Dr. Joseph-Alexis says Mediterranean or plant-based diets are great for heart health. “We’ve all heard these recommendations before. If you are having trouble getting started, try to make small changes first, like taking a walk every day or skipping sugary drinks. This will help kickstart heart-healthy changes that you can commit to long-term,” said Dr. Joseph-Alexis.
- Decrease stress — “I cannot emphasize enough how stress can affect your health,” says Dr. Joseph-Alexis. She recommends mindfulness, meditation, therapy or anything you can do to reduce stress. This includes finding ways to decompress and surrounding yourself with supportive people. “Your heart is important, and your cholesterol is important, but we also have to look at the patient as a whole and make sure they are doing okay. Stress reduction will really make a huge difference,” says Dr. Joseph-Alexis.