I'm in my twenties. Can I worry about my heart health later?
No. Though there's no need to stress about it (please, it's bad for your heart!), you do need to get checked out. Heart disease can begin early, especially if you've been on a college-style diet (read: beer and fast food), says Jennifer H. Mieres, M.D. The AHA recommends a heart check at age 20, with a follow-up every five years. Almost any of your doctors can perform the screening, which usually consists of a simple cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index checkup.
My sister swears her vegan diet prevents heart disease. True?
Not always. Some vegans still eat snacks like chips, dips, and cookies, all of which could spike blood sugar and pile on unhealthy pounds, says Chrisandra Shufelt, M.D., associate director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Those on restricted diets may also suffer nutrition gaps; many vegans, for example, lack B12, a key vitamin for blood and nerve cells, that's found mostly in animal foods.
Both my grandmothers had heart attacks in their sixties! Does this mean I'm doomed?
Heart disease can be genetic. But cardiac illness is 80 percent preventable for everyone—sketchy family history or not, according to the AHA. It's all about managing behavioral risk factors. Cutting down on stress, regularly breaking a sweat, and eating a Mediterranean-style diet full of colorful produce, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats are the best and first steps to shedding hereditary hazards.
I think I felt my heart skip a beat, literally. Is that even possible?
Yes. When the heart's upper chamber contracts too early, your ticker can miss a beat or two. The technical term for this is premature atrial complex, or PAC, and it's usually benign, says Patricia Vassallo, M.D. It's OK if it happens every day or once in a blue moon—but see your doc ASAP if it's ever accompanied by light-headedness or dizziness, which could signal a more serious cardiac problem.
I'm a workaholic and an adrenaline junkie. How bad is that for my heart?
Chronic high levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline can constrict arteries and raise blood pressure. In some cases, an intense surge of adrenaline can even trigger a mock heart attack, complete with chest pain, sweating, and shortness of breath, says Maja Zaric, M.D. There's no lasting damage, but it's a big warning to dial down your intensity.