We speak “from the heart”, trust “our heart” and seek a “heart connection”. The heart is an emotional and spiritual symbol of love and truth.
Physiologically, the heart is a powerful, muscular organ vital to our existence. Did you know that our heart beats:
72 times a minute?
100,000 times a day?
3.6 million times a year?
…that our heart creates enough energy to drive a truck 20 miles every day?!
Our heart does so much for us; yet, sadly, heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans. It’s never too early to nourish your heart. Below…debunking 5 heart health myths.
Debunking 5 Heart Health Myths
Myth #1: Heart disease is a “man’s disease”.
Actually, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men (1 in every 4 male deaths) and women (1 in 3 female deaths) in the U.S. Between 70 to 89% of sudden cardiac events occur in men. However, many women fail to realize that heart disease should be their top health concern: 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. For perspective: while 1 in 31 women die of breast cancer, 1 in 3 die of heart disease.
Myth #2: Your total cholesterol and LDL are the best predictors of heart disease.
Nope. It’s your triglycerides, the main form of fat found in your bloodstream. High trigylcerides are an independent risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The “normal” range for triglycerides is <130.
Also: divide your triglycerides by your HDL to get the Triglycerides/HDL ratio. According to research published in Circulation and the Journal of the American Heart Association, this ratio is a powerful predictor of heart disease. Less than 2 is ideal; 4 or more is too high.
Myth #3: “Vegetable” oils, like canola, corn and safflower are “heart healthy”; traditional saturated fats, like butter, lard and tallow, are “bad for you”.
I know…“vegetable oil” sounds healthy, doesn’t it? However, the oils mentioned above, along with soy, cottonseed and sunflower, are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a., PUFA), making them unstable. When PUFA oils are stored at room temperature—eg, at the grocery store—they become rancid to some degree. When heated, PUFA oils oxidize, causing inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease. PUFA oils are also processed with high heat and harsh chemicals, like hexane, a carcinogen.
On the other hand, traditional saturated fats from quality (ideally, grass-fed) sources, like butter, lard and tallow, are solid at room temperature and stable when used for high-heat cooking. They do not oxidize like vegetable oils.
Myth #4: Eating fat, especially saturated fat, makes you fat—and contributes to heart disease.
Are we still having this conversation?! Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Cambridge University, made media waves last March when his study on saturated fatty acids published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. His conclusion? The evidence does not support current guidelines, which restrict the consumption of saturated fats to prevent heart disease. This wasn’t new news either: a 2010 study had similar findings.
According to Nina Teicholz, who spent a decade researching the effects of dietary fats on health, especially saturated fat, for her book The Big Fat Surprise: “There has never been solid evidence for the idea that saturated fats cause disease.” This half-century bias against saturated fat, she says, was perpetuated by “a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.”
In fact, for women, who contract heart disease in a way that is different than men, growing evidence shows that eating a diet low in saturated fat increases their risk of having a heart attack because their “good” HDL cholesterol drops dramatically, says Teicholz. CLICK HERE to learn about the health benefits of saturated fat.
Sugar is the real culprit, contributing to inflammation and oxidative damage, increasing risk of heart disease.
Myth #5: Frequent, high-mileage cardio is good for heart health.
As someone who has been running since the age of 13, I’ve been guilty of what former competitive distance runner and fitness author Mark Sisson calls “chronic cardio”. Until a few years ago, I regularly logged 30-40 miles a week—and I wasn’t even training for a race!
While regular aerobic exercise is a good thing, excessive cardio is not. Endurance athletes (like marathoners) are at greater risk for atrial fibrillations (heart arrhythmia, or, irregular heartbeat) than non-runners. Why? Because they are at increased risk for scar tissue formation in the heart and myocardial injury to the heart, as well as high levels of inflammation (brought on by training) that may trigger cardiac events. In a study of competitive endurance veteran athletes (a group of men, aged 50+, all of whom had completed at least 100 marathons), researchers found that half of these longtime athletes—particularly the men who had trained the longest and hardest—showed some heart muscle scarring.
If you’re focused and giving it your all (not socializing in between!), a 45-minute workout should suffice. Better yet, every 7 to 10 days, engage in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), short bursts of high-intensity exercise that give you more benefits in less time (eg, 20 minutes).