This post is inspired by a helpful American Heart Association article “Top 10 Myths About Cardiovascular Disease,” which warns of the dangers of making false assumptions about your risk for heart disease.
I’m not the only one who made false assumptions about my heart; it took ER doctors and even cardiologists hours to believe I was really having a heart attack. But now I know the real truth and I want you to do the same.
Here are some of the myths the article describes and my own take on busting them. Read up, take your heart seriously, and pass it on.
I’m too young for heart disease.
Ha. I think we know how false this one is. I was 37 when I had my heart attack, and over the course of my eight weeks in rehab I saw at least two survivors much younger than me. In fact, 62% of people living with heart disease are under age 65.
I’ll know I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain.
Again, ha. No chest pain whatsoever. Sharp, stabbing back pain, yes. Arms, hands, and even palms aching to the point of tears, yes. Cold sweat, yes. Chest pain, not a bit. Especially for women, the symptoms of a heart attack can be as subtle as nausea. If something doesn’t feel right, get checked. Don’t assume it’s heartburn, headache, muscle strain, or any of the zillions of excuses women make for their symptoms.
Genetics are destiny. Since heart disease runs in my family, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.
I fell victim to this one a little bit. I knew I had high cholesterol but so did most people in my family and they hadn’t had heart attacks. I was off-and-on medication but it didn’t really improve that much. I was off-and-on my low-fat diet, figuring all the exercise I was getting balanced that out.
Well, it didn’t. With family history of high cholesterol my only risk factor, I had a heart attack anyway.
But here’s the thing. After my heart attack, aggressive medication, diet management, rehab, and continuous exercise have brought my cholesterol way down, from a “bad” level of 180 to 58, and total from 230 to 106.
There is something you can do about it. So do it.
I don’t need to start worrying about heart health until middle age.
Again, do I need to remind you that I was 37? (I guess that might be middle age – yikes!) Maybe it is, but if I’d been paying attention before that (I knew about my cholesterol levels in my early 20s), I might have avoided my trips to the cath lab and cardiac rehab.
The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20 and to start even earlier if your family has a history of heart disease. Children with a family history can have high cholesterol levels, putting them at increased risk for developing heart disease as adults. My brother tested in the 300s when he was 13; I had my older son checked at age 10. So far, so good.
I should avoid exercise after having a heart attack.
Really? Someone actually thinks this? It might be hard. It might be scary. But if you want to live, get out there. I loved cardiac rehab and I recommend a formal, supervised re-entry into exercise. I felt so much safer, stronger, and more confident, and the structure it provided kept me accountable. Make sure your doctor approves and then get moving. I’m running a marathon this fall, but really, I’m running for my life.
The American Heart Association recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity physical activity each week. There are 168 hours in a week; can you spare 22 minutes a day?
These are just half of the top 10 myths. Check out the AHA article for more!