After you've had
a heart attack, your life will move inexorably downhill.
1954, President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack
while in office — a first. His cardiologist, Dr. Paul Dudley
White, from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General
Hospital, appeared on national television to assure the
anxious public that if President Eisenhower paid attention to
what he ate and became involved in a regular walking program,
he could continue to fulfill the strenuous duties of the
highest office in the land. Most people were surprised to hear
it. As Ike proved, you have no reason whatsoever to give up
after you've had a heart attack. Modern cardiac rehabilitation
can help people who've suffered a heart attack or have other
serious forms of heart disease to live full, vigorous lives
for many years after they experience the first manifestations
of heart disease.
MYTH: Cardiovascular disease already runs in my
family so there really is nothing I can do to prevent it from
While it is true that you cannot control genetics, you may
have other risk factors that can be controlled. These might
include diabetes, extra weight, cholesterol, elevated blood
pressure levels, and smoking. By managing these risk factors,
you can help lower your overall risk of developing
cardiovascular disease. Also, most heart attacks and strokes
are preventable if treatment is focused on all risk factors.
MYTH: When I reach my cholesterol and blood
pressure goals, I no longer need to worry about developing
cardiovascular disease and can even stop taking medicine.
Unfortunately, high cholesterol and blood pressure cannot
be cured - they can only be controlled through lifestyle
changes and, for some many, drug treatment. So, when you have
reached the treatment targets for cholesterol, blood pressure,
and other cardiovascular disease risk factors, you must
continue to eat right, get regular exercise, and take your
medication as directed by your doctor.
Heart disease is a disease of middle age and older years.
Many people think of heart disease as a problem of middle and
older age, because that's when the manifestations of heart
disease, such as angina and heart attack, strike. What a
dangerous myth. Although the manifestations of coronary
artery disease typically occur during the middle and later
years of life, the roots of coronary artery disease lie
in childhood. Using heart-healthy lifestyle measures not only
will help you but also will enable you to set an example for
your children and grandchildren.
The old-boy network
Men are much
more likely to get heart disease than women.
too many women think that heart disease is mainly a male
disease. However, heart disease is by far the leading cause of
death for women. Women are six to ten times more likely to die
of heart disease than breast cancer (which women fear more).
When cardiovascular disease and stroke are combined, these two
diseases claim more female lives every year than the next 16
causes of death combined.Even so, many of these deaths are
MYTH: No pain, no gain
To get cardiac
benefit from exercise, you need to get sweaty and out of
Many sedentary individuals (and, indeed, many exercisers!)
share the myth that you have to exercise at a fairly intense
level to achieve cardiac benefits. To some degree, this myth
grew from the advice of well-intentioned exercise
physiologists, who said that improving your aerobic fitness
requires at least three or four 20- to 30-minute sessions of
continuous vigorous exercise every week. Without question,
this advice is excellent if your only goal is improving your
aerobic capacity. However, if your goal is lowering your risk
of heart disease, totally different rules apply . . . you
simply need to become more active. Accumulating 30 minutes of
moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days is
a solid goal.Don't let the myth that you have to sweat like
crazy for 30 minutes straight keep you and your heart
declining . . . uh, reclining on the couch.
MYTH: I don't need to worry about
developing cardiovascular disease because I follow a healthy
diet and I am physically active.
Even if you exercise and eat right, you could still be at
risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Although being
physically active and following a well-balanced diet are
important, you may have other risk factors that increase your
overall risk for cardiovascular disease. These could include
smoking, alcohol drinking, diabetes, and even
mild-to-moderately elevated blood pressure and cholesterol.
Grin and Bear It
If you're having
chest pain, the best thing you can do is wait and see whether
it goes away.
Peanuts character Linus once asked Charlie Brown how he
approached a problem. Did he tackle it right away, or think
about it first? Charlie Brown responded, "I try to go into a
cave and hope that it will go away." That may work in other
areas of your life, but ignoring the symptoms of acute heart
disease is a bad idea. The longer the delay before treatment
of a heart attack begins, the greater the potential heart
damage. If you're having significant chest discomfort,
shortness of breath, or any other symptoms that suggest a
heart attack, call 911 immediately so you can be transported
to the emergency room. Don't hide in a cave!
MYTH: The stiff upper lip
Dying of a
broken heart or being scared to death is not possible.
Folk wisdom long has suggested that people can be scared to
death or die of a broken heart. Many cardiologists, however,
say that your emotions and mental state can affect your
behavior but not your heart. From this point of view, it
doesn't matter whether you keep a stiff upper lip and bury
your fears, pain, and stress or deal with them. Multiple
scientific studies show that important mind/body connections
exist for health in general and cardiovascular health in
particular. Your levels of stress, your connection to other
people, your sense of giving and receiving love all are
extremely important for your cardiovascular health. Your goal
should be using these profound linkages to promote
MYTH: Lifestyle changes, such as exercise, a proper
diet and stopping smoking, are enough to lower the risk of
developing cardiovascular disease. I don't need medicine.
Only your doctor can say whether or not you need medicine
to help lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
While eating right and exercising are important, these
lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to help manage
cardiovascular disease risk factors. That is why you should
talk to your doctor to make sure you are doing everything
possible to prevent developing cardiovascular disease.
We all will die
of heart disease, if we live long enough.
Jupiter, the Roman King of the Gods, killed mere mortals by
hurling thunderbolts from the sky. This myth expresses the
presumption that heart disease is an act of God. Not so. Dying
of heart disease is not inevitable. Recognize that your own
habits and actions play the biggest roles in whether you
develop heart disease. Take a tip from baseball great Mickey
Mantle, who humorously said of his health-destructive
lifestyle, "If I knew I was going to live so long, I would
have taken better care of myself!"