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6 misconceptions about heart health

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How often should you visit your doctor to check your blood pressure?

  • If it’s normal (below 120/80 mm Hg), every two years
  • If you’re prehypertensive (between 120/80 mm Hg and 139/89 mm Hg), every year
  • If you have hypertension (140/90 mm Hg and up), kidney disease, diabetes or heart disease or have had a stroke, follow your doctor’s recommendations

Ask your doctor whether a home blood pressure monitor may be right for you.

What you think you know about heart health may hurt you. Here’s the truth behind some myths, confusing health headlines and changing recommendations.

Myth 1: A lot of vitamin E protects your heart.

Recent studies suggest 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, take one multivitamin pill a day, but aim to get your vitamin E naturally from a healthy, varied diet instead of from supplements.

Myth 2: Heart attacks start with chest pain.

The classic heart attack comes on with crushing chest pain, but many 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 in the upper body with pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach. Other signs can include shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea and light-headedness. If you suspect a heart attack, call for immediate emergency help.

Myth 3: Heart disease is a man’s problem.

Heart disease is the leading killer of women, claiming over 250,000 women’s lives a year. Cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke and hypertension as well as heart disease, kills more American women than men each year.

Myth 4: Smoking hurts lungs, not hearts.

You’re at risk for lung disease if you smoke, but you’re also two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than a nonsmoker. Regular exposure to secondhand smoke is bad for your heart as well as your lungs.

Myth 5: Exercising three times a week is enough.

It’s a good start, but it’s not the ultimate goal. New government recommendations say we should all be exercising at a moderate to vigorous level for at least 30 minutes on most days. To lose weight, make that 60 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a formal gym session for it to count. Several brisk 15-minute walks add up.

Myth 6: Chocolate is good for your heart.

Recent studies indicate that dark chocolate has a heart-healthy value, but eating too much of it can lead to unwanted pounds, ultimately hurting your heart. Limit yourself to a small amount if you indulge.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media