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Love your heart.

Health Hub from Cleveland Clinic

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women
in the United States.

Are you concerned?

The lethal combination of artery-clogging cholesterol, fatty deposits, blood clotting and inflammation can cause heart attack, stroke and other health crises. Yet 74 percent of Americans aren't afraid of dying of heart disease.

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We can help

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To take charge of your health, you’ll need to know what is and isn't healthy for your heart. A Cleveland Clinic Heart & Vascular Institute survey finds that too many Americans don’t know. Let experts from the heart program ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report since 1995 help you separate perception from reality.

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Eat Right

Perception

Any low-fat, low-calorie diet is good for your heart.

Reality

Eating the Mediterranean diet — featuring lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and more — is great for your heart.

Olive oil and nuts are a prominent part. (They're loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.) And your heart does much better with protein from fish, low-fat dairy and skinless poultry than from the red meat so popular in the West. Become more physically active as well to experience the full benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Perception

Stowing the salt shaker will keep your sodium intake low.

Reality

Sodium, linked to high blood pressure, sneaks into a surprising number of foods.

Nearly one-third of the Americans we surveyed thought cheese was the biggest culprit. Yet Americans typically get more sodium every day from bread, cereal, crackers, pancakes and bagels than from cheese and salty snacks combined! Frozen meals and canned soups are high in sodium too. When in doubt, check the Nutrition Facts label.

Perception

A portion is what fills your plate.

Reality

In America, portion sizes are way off.

Portion control is the key to a healthy weight and heart. When you eat, vegetables and fruit should fill half your plate. Grains should fill one-quarter, leaving one-quarter or less for meat or fish.

Typical portion

Tap Mouse over for true portion size

Perception

Vitamins and supplements are good for your heart.

Reality

No vitamin or supplement promotes heart health — not even C or E.

Yet more than 60 percent of the Americans we surveyed believed they do. And 44 percent thought vitamins lower cholesterol — also not true. To benefit your heart, you'd have to swallow so many fish oil capsules that you'd end up smelling like a fish.

Perception

Fish is healthy for your heart because it's low in cholesterol.

Reality

Fish can have as much cholesterol as red meat — that's not why it's good for your heart.

It's the omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines that matter. For long-term heart health, eat fish twice a week. Choose fatty or white fish rather than shellfish, which are often high in cholesterol. Forget frying, batter and rich sauces. Opt for baking and broiling, using lemon, herbs and spices.

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Exercise

Perception

Walking the dog every day helps protect you from heart disease.

Reality

For heart health, you need at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise 5 days a week.

If you want to lose weight too, exercise for 60 minutes on most days. (Your heart will still benefit if you divide exercise into sessions at least 10 minutes long.) What does moderate exercise look like? Watch the video to see. You’ll know you’re at moderate intensity when you can talk — but not sing.

Perception

You have to run or jog to get cardiovascular benefits.

Reality

You just have to find a moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity you enjoy. Then make a habit of it.

Brisk walking, biking, spinning, swimming, water aerobics, dancing, Jazzercize®, Zumba® — you name it. They all may benefit your heart when done on a regular basis. Once you find an activity you love, embrace it. (And don't let arthritis stop you. Moving can help to ease pain.)

Perception

You can live a long life after a heart attack as long as you take your medication and watch what you eat.

Reality

Medication and diet are important. But exercising as you’re shown in cardiac rehab will boost your long-term survival by 30 to 50 percent.

Exercise is critical after a heart attack, bypass surgery or angioplasty. Yet just half the Americans in our survey knew how much regular exercise can impact survival. (Only 32 percent of those 65 and over, who are at higher risk for heart disease, knew.)

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Know Your Risk

Perception

With new cholesterol guidelines, you don’t have to know your numbers. Your doctor will tell you if you need medication.

Reality

Cleveland Clinic experts believe you still need to track your cholesterol.

Yes, American Heart Association prevention guidelines have changed. So it’s a good time to ask your doctor about your heart disease risk and to plan a prevention strategy. Tracking cholesterol (particularly LDL) will show you and your doctor how well a heart-healthy diet, exercise, stress management and medication are working.

Perception

If your blood pressure is high and you feel fine, there’s no need to worry.

Reality

High blood pressure may cause no symptoms at all — but it increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the "silent killer" for a reason. New guidelines suggest a higher threshold for starting antihypertensive medications. But acting earlier may be important for heart health. Talk to your doctor about what your blood pressure goal should be. Lifestyle changes — including the low-sodium DASH diet — and medication can save your life.

Perception

It's OK if you gain a little weight as you get a little older.

Reality

Staying trim helps position you for a heart-healthy future. Extra weight, especially around the middle, increases your risk of heart disease.

Most Americans should aim for a BMI (body mass index, an estimate of body fat) below 27. Men should keep waistlines below 40 inches, and women below 35 inches. Screening for diabetes is invaluable if you’re overweight or have a family history of diabetes. Taking preventive steps will reduce your risk of heart disease.

Perception

You're only at risk for heart disease if one of your parents had it.

Reality

You're also at risk if a brother or sister — or to a lesser extent, grandparent or first cousin — are affected.

Knowing your family history is important for prevention. If heart disease struck your mother before age 45 or your father before age 55, or affected other close relatives, your doctor will want to know.

Look for heart attack, aneurysm, hypertension, stroke, peripheral artery disease or early death in your family tree.

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Quit Smoking

Perception

Smoking causes lung cancer but won't affect your heart.

Reality

Smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to get heart disease. And smoking is linked to 20 percent of U.S. heart disease deaths.

Just half the Americans we surveyed said they’d be willing to quit smoking to lower their risk of heart disease. Watch the video to see how smoking affects your heart. Blood pressure increases, which stresses the heart. Blood thickens, gets harder to pump and clots more easily. This damages blood vessel walls, which attract fatty deposits. Deposits can block oxygen and blood flow to the heart and brain, causing heart attack or stroke.

Perception

If you dip or chew tobacco, you won't have to worry about heart disease.

Reality

Long-term use of smokeless tobacco has been linked to a higher risk of fatal heart attack and fatal stroke.

True, smoking does more damage to your heart. But smokeless tobacco is "far from harmless," the American Heart Association says. Long-term use can hamper your ability to recover from or survive a heart attack or stroke. Smokeless tobacco increases your risk of mouth, tongue, tonsil and throat cancer. And nicotine addiction — in any form — is one of the toughest to beat.

Perception

If you cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke, you'll be OK.

Reality

Smoking even 3 cigarettes per day increases your risk of heart disease.

Smoking less is better than smoking more. But quitting will benefit you — and those around you. Up to 70,000 Americans die every year from heart disease caused by secondhand smoke. This tragedy is wholly preventable. Cities that ban public indoor smoking have seen marked declines in heart disease.

Perception

If you adopt all of these heart-healthy habits, you'll be fine.

Reality

Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle will help you take charge of your future. But some risk factors are beyond your control.

Ask your doctor about your risk for heart disease. Discuss your family’s health history. Learn about any extra steps you need to take. Then start taking them. You’ll reap endless benefits from heart-healthy living. And so will your family.

Be Smart

Love Your Heart

Begin taking better care of your heart today. Find our expert’s recommendations, heart-healthy recipes, diet and weight loss tips, exercise advice and more at HealthHub from Cleveland Clinic.

Sources

New Cholesterol Guidelines: Worth the Wait? Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, Jan. 28, 2014.

Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. New England Journal of Medicine, April 4, 2013.

Physical Activity and Public Health In Older Adults: Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, August 1, 2007.

HealthHub from Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic Heart & Vascular Institute

Health Hub from Cleveland Clinic

Love Your Heart

Begin taking better care of your heart today. Find our expert’s recommendations, heart-healthy recipes, diet and weight loss tips, exercise advice and more at HealthHub from Cleveland Clinic.

Sources

New Cholesterol Guidelines: Worth the Wait? Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, Jan. 28, 2014.

Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. New England Journal of Medicine, April 4, 2013.

Physical Activity and Public Health In Older Adults: Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, August 1, 2007.

HealthHub from Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic Heart & Vascular Institute