Don’t be fooled—or worse, made sick or injured—by these falsities
Whether from your doctor or a loved one, you’ve probably heard at some point about the importance of maintaining a healthy heart. But for something that plays such a crucial role in powering our bodies, understanding exactly what makes a heart tick—and what can hurt it—isn’t always so clear. Even worse, not all the advice about heart health you read online or hear from friends is true—and some of it can be misleading and ultimately dangerous.
Here are a few common myths about maintaining a healthy heart that you might believe, and the truths to replace it.
Myth: An aspirin a day keeps a heart attack away
Truth: Aspirin isn’t for everyone
If you’ve been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease (CVD) or were told by your doctor that you’re at a high risk for it, taking a daily low-dose aspirin (75 to 100 milligrams) is fine. But for most of us, popping aspirin pills regularly can do more harm than good, especially for people in the following categories:
- You are older than 70
- You are at a risk of bleeding
- You have ulcers
- You are taking NSAIDs, steroids, or blood thinners
In 2019, the American Heart Association released new guidelines suggesting that low-dose aspirin should be used to prevent CVD onlyin adults aged 40 to 70 who are at a “higher” risk of heart disease but no tat a higher risk of bleeding.
Bottom line: Unless instructed by your doctor, only take aspirin when you absolutely have to.
Myth: E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to tobacco
Truth: E-cigarettes affect the heart in different ways
Though e-cigarettes might seem like a healthier option than traditional smoking, they come with risks, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. While the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are not yet fully understood, early studies have shown that the smoking substitute may cause changes to the cardiovascular system, including heart rate and blood vessels, which can increase your heart disease risk.
Bottom line: Try to quit nicotine and tobacco products altogether rather than switching to e-cigarettes or cutting back.
Myth: High blood pressure is always bad
Truth: For adults age 70 or older, high blood pressure isn’t alwaysdangerous
A new study in European Heart Journalreported that a blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg can raise the risk of death in adults in their 80s, as well as in older adults with previous heart events (such as a heart attack or stroke). After looking at the blood pressure of 1,628 patients with an average age of 81, researchers discovered that those with “normal” readings were more likely to die from any cause. This was even after researchers made adjustments based on body mass index, lifestyle factors, and the use of blood-pressure-lowering medications. What’s more, a recent study from the European Sudden Cardiac Arrest Network (ESCAPE-NET) found that taking a high dose of certain blood pressure medications was associated with sudden cardiac arrest.
Bottom line: Blood pressure treatment is not one-size-fits all. Work with your doctor to determine what numbers to aim for—and what to do if they go higher or lower.
Myth: Family history is the biggest risk factor for heart disease
Truth: Your lifestyle and environment play a significant role in heart health, too
According to the American Heart Association, only about 20 percent of a person’s risk for heart disease comes from your DNA. Your lifestyle, behavior, and environment play a far greater role. Interestingly, a 2017 The Lancetstudy found that a poor diet—due to its effect on overall health and specific health conditions—was the biggest killer in the world, with most of those deaths from heart disease. (Most of the rest were from cancer and diabetes.) However, no one measure alone is the magic answer to lowering a person’s risk of heart disease.
Bottom line: When you see your doctor or cardiologist (or any doctor, for that matter), share a detailed view of your family history, personal history, and current lifestyle. That way, you can both see what your starting point is, so you can decide where you want to go and how you can get there.