Take this quiz to see whether you know how to keep your heart in tip-top shape. Read the following statements and decide whether they’re true or false:
1. All fats are the same.
False. Some fats are definitely healthier for you than others. Monounsaturated fats, found in avocado, olive, canola and peanut oils, and polyunsaturated fats, found in safflower, sesame, soy, corn and sunflower-seed oils, may lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in meats, cheese, whole-fat dairy products, cocoa butter and coconut, palm and palm kernel oil. The U.S. government’s latest dietary guidelines recommend keeping total fat intake between 20 percent and 35 percent of your daily calories, with no more than 10 percent coming from saturated fat (make that 7 percent if you have coronary heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol). Avoid heart-hurting trans fatty acids, often found in processed foods and fast foods.
2. Exercising three times a week is enough.
False. It’s a good start but falls short of the latest government recommendations, which say we should all be exercising at a moderate to vigorous level for 30 to 60 minutes on most days to avoid chronic illness.
3. You don’t need to do all your daily exercise in one session.
True. And it doesn’t have to be a formal gym session for exercise to count. A few brisk 15-minute walks during the day add up. The American Heart Association suggests you wear a pedometer, an inexpensive gadget that clips to your waistband and tallies every step you take. Aim for 10,000 steps a day for good heart health—every step all day long counts!
4. You’re not at risk for heart disease if you eat right, keep your weight at a healthy level, exercise and don’t smoke.
False. If you have heart disease in your immediate family, you’re considered at risk. Take a moment to discuss your family medical history with your healthcare provider. If you’ve inherited high cholesterol or other conditions that make you more likely to develop heart problems, you and your doctor may consider aggressive screening and interventions. What’s more, simply getting older increases your heart disease risk, so make sure you maintain healthy habits.
5. Heart attacks don’t always start with chest pain.
True. The classic heart attack comes on with crushing chest pain, but many heart attacks start with discomfort, such as pressure, squeezing or fullness in the chest. Some heart attack symptoms don’t appear in the chest at all but rather with pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach. Other common heart attack signs include shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea and light-headedness. If you suspect a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately.
6. Chocolate is good for your heart.
True, sort of. When it comes to chocolate, new studies indicate that dark chocolate contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which give it a heart-healthy value. But many Americans prefer milk chocolate, and that’s not the same thing. If you want to treat yourself to chocolate and feel virtuous, make sure it’s dark chocolate—and eat only a modest amount, since chocolate also contains sugar and fat.
7. Menopausal hormone therapy helps protect the heart after menopause.
False. It was once thought menopausal hormone therapy could not only reduce menopausal symptoms but also protect women’s hearts. Several large studies in the last five years found otherwise, however. Hormone therapy does not protect women against heart disease. What’s more, it may endanger women’s cardiovascular health.
8. Heart disease is more prevalent among older adults.
True. While heart disease can strike at any age, more than 83 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.
9. If you feel great, you don’t need your heart health monitored by a physician.
False. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the silent killer for a reason. You can’t feel it, but it’s still damaging your heart health. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, weight, glucose levels, body mass index—all these measures are important indicators of your cardiovascular health and your need for early intervention. Talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should get these screenings—then follow through.
10. A low-dose daily aspirin can protect hearts.
True, for some. It appears that some men and women receive a heart-protective benefit from taking aspirin either daily or every other day. But a recent study suggests that aspirin doesn’t always offer this benefit to low-risk adults. While your healthcare provider may recommend aspirin therapy if you have several risk factors for coronary disease and can tolerate aspirin well, you should not self-prescribe without a medical consultation. Aspirin can interfere with many drugs, cause serious gastrointestinal bleeding and aggravate certain health conditions.
11. Diabetes puts a person at higher risk for heart disease.
True. Two in three people with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease. If you have diabetes, work closely with your healthcare provider to keep your blood sugars within a safe range and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels—which will all reduce your cardiovascular risk.
12. Vitamin E supplements protect your heart.
False. Recent studies have found that high daily doses of vitamin E supplements—400 IU or more—are associated with a higher risk of death from any cause, including cardiovascular disease. Until more research is done on safe levels of vitamin E, eat a healthy, varied diet and take one multi-vitamin pill a day.