Common Myths About Heart Health

When I meet with patients, I always try to get a sense of how they perceive their overall health. Many people believe they have good diet and exercise habits, so they are surprised when I explain to them that there are many common beliefs about heart health that are more fiction than fact.

Here are a few of the most common misconceptions I encounter:

Myth #1: If I don’t salt my food, I’m following a low-sodium diet. Many people believe because they do not add salt to their food, they are practicing a low-sodium diet. But what they don’t realize is that according to the American Heart Association, 75 percent of the salt we consume comes from processed, pre-packaged and restaurant foods. Fifteen percent occurs naturally in some foods (e.g. milk, celery, beets). That means only about 10 percent of our sodium intake comes from added table salt.

Myth #2: Daily aspirin is good for me. Many people take a low-dose daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have issued new guidelines that state that aspirin should not be used for routine primary prevention because there is a lack of demonstrated net benefit. The new guidelines state that aspirin should only be reserved as prevention for patients between 40 to 70 years old who have no bleeding risk, but high risk for arterial sclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Myth #3: People should not exercise after a heart attack. Some patients are afraid to exercise or believe they should not exercise after a heart attack. Yet research has shown physical activity after a heart attack supports recovery. I generally advise patients to start gentle activity on their own about a week after coming out of the hospital and to enroll quickly in cardiac rehab to develop a safe, monitored and individualized exercise program. 

Myth #4: Statins cause memory loss and dementia: This is a myth that has been debunked many times. A study published in the November 2019 Journal of the American College of Cardiology compared the memory and global cognition of two groups of subjects ages 70 to 90 years: one group took statins, the other group did not. These subjects were followed for six years. The results showed there was no greater decline in memory or global cognition between subjects that took statins versus those who did not.

Myth #5: If I’m not overweight, I don’t have to worry about sleep apnea. A study published in 2017 by the Journal of Clinical Medicine shows nearly 25 percent of the subjects who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea had a normal BMI (less than 25). Yet many people believe only those who are overweight suffer from the condition. If you wake up frequently at night or have been told you snore or that you have periods when your breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you sleep, contact Virginia Heart for an Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) screening.

Ki Kim holds a Master of Science in Nursing from George Mason University and is a board certified family nurse practitioner. He began his career in medicine as a combat medic in the U.S. Army. He sees patients in Virginia Heart’s Vienna office.