According to statistics from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, heart disease and stroke claim a human life roughly ever 7-minutes. Established in 1958, the Foundation dubbed February “Heart Month,” an opportunity to raise awareness about the risk factors of heart disease and stroke and fundraise to support life-saving cardiovascular research efforts.
To mark Heart Month, let’s decipher fact from myth when it comes to living a heart-smart lifestyle…
1. FACT: A Broken Heart is a Legitimate Medical Condition
Broken heart syndrome (or Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy) is a legitimate medical condition that was discovered by Japanese doctors in the early part of the 1990s. Today, cardiologists recognize broken heart syndrome on a global scale.
Cardiologists refer to this cardiac syndrome as “takotsubo,” which describes the ballooning (or bulging) of the heart in Japanese. The syndrome is brought on by severe physical or emotional stress (i.e., death of a loved one, partner abuse, or extreme debt) that triggers the discharge of stress hormones, obstructs blood flow, and mimics a heart attack.
2. MYTH: A Diet Low in Fat Prevents Cardiovascular Disease
Not all fats are created equal! The average North American diet is rife with multiple types of healthy and unhealthy types of fat. For instance, a diet rich in saturated and trans fats is considered hazardous to heart health. While diets rich in monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids (i.e., olive oil, salmon, flaxseed, and nuts).
While researchers at the Mayo Clinic point out that dietary fat is an essential macronutrient that delivers energy for the body and helps drive multiple body functions (i.e., vitamin absorption is dependent upon fat), an abundance of fats are also high in calories, which can lead to weight gain, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
3. FACT: Cocoa is Heart-Healthy
With Valentine’s Day fading off into the distance, we all need a bit of validation that chocolate is healthy. However, despite the lingering guilt associated with scarfing boxes of heart-shaped chocolates and sharing decadent desserts for two, I’m sorry to inform you that milk chocolates in red velvet boxes and fudge creams are not on the healthy chocolate noshing list.
In order for chocolate to be considered “heart-healthy” it must contain a minimum of at least 70-percent cocoa (cacoa in roasted and ground form) within, according to the Dr. Mary Engler, Physiological Nursing Professor at the University of California, in San Francisco. Cocoa is rich in heart-boosting antioxidants and has been long-linked to reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke by up to 40-percent. But remember, chocolate is still high in fat and sugar so limit yourself to 1 to 2 squares a day at most.
4. FACT: Poor Oral Health Increases Heart Disease Risk
You might not consider good oral health on your priority list when it comes to protecting your ticker. However, maintaining good oral hygiene—that means brushing and flossing daily and keeping up with regular dental checkups and cleanings—impacts your cardiovascular health more than you likely realize.
Findings published by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) establishes a strong link between preventive dentistry and the maintenance of heart health. A 2006 NIDCR study suggests that oral bacterium (porphyromonas gingivalis) causes cardiovascular disease when it colonizes and invades the endothelial cells that line the inner tissues of the aorta—resulting in an inflammatory-type response that is linked to cardiovascular disease.
5. MYTH: Heart Disease is a Man’s Disease
Listen up ladies! The American Heart Association would like to remind you that cardiovascular disease and heart attacks do not only strike men. In fact, there are currently over 42-million American women living with heart disease.
The truth is that heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the U.S. and Canada. Women are at accelerated risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack if they are obese, over the age of 55, or suffer with type 2 diabetes.
6. FACT: Chronic Stress Increases Heart Attack and Stroke Risk
We all suffer from stress, and in fact, a brief period (or acute amount) of stress can actually be very normal and even beneficial, as it builds up resistance to the body’s short-term stress response system.
However, if you suffer from chronic, long-term stress, prolonged and elevated stress hormones (i.e., epinephrine) can have a adverse domino affect on your health and wellbeing. According to studies from the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress has been linked to depression, blood vessel and artery damage, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and weakened immunity.
7. MYTH: Diet and Exercise Are My Only Solution to Better Heart Health
Sure, regular physical activity and a healthy, balanced diet are nothing to shake a stick at. However, in addition to consuming a healthful diet and getting regular exercise, you can do plenty more to protect your heart.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the American Heart Association consider multiple daily lifestyle choices as part and partial to better heart health. For instance, lowering stress levels can drastically reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Sleep quality and duration can also greatly impact cardiovascular health and wellness.