8 Things You Didn't Know About Your Heart

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Heart disease is (still) the number-one killer of women in the United States, so it's important to keep your ticker in shape.

1. Dogs Provide More Heart-Boosting Benefits Than Other Pets. 

The American Heart Association says that although having any household pet may help lower heart-disease risk, Fido is your best bet because dog owners often get more exercise, by walking and playing fetch, for example, than folks who have other pets.

2. Wine, Vacations and Flu Shots Can Ward Off Heart Problems. 
Many aspects of our lives are tied to heart health. The flu, for instance, causes inflammation and can result in blocked blood vessels. A recent study found that those who got the vaccine had a 36 percent lower risk of having a major cardiac event the next year. Regular moderate alcohol consumption-one to two glasses of wine or beer per day-has been linked to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, while vacations lower stress levels and risk of heart disease, too.

3. Your Body Type Won't Make You Prone to Heart Disease. 
For years, "apples" (people who carry extra weight around their middle) have been warned they're at increased risk for heart disease. But a report that looked at records of more than 220,000 people concluded that body shape has no significant effect.

4. Heartbreak Really Can Hurt Your Heart. 

Losing a loved one, through death or a breakup, can be so emotionally devastating that it can lead to broken-heart syndrome, a condition that could lead to heart failure or heart attack-like symptoms.

5. What's Worse: Doughnuts or Eggs? Doughnuts. 
Besides being high in saturated or trans fat, both of which are bad for your heart, the doughnut is loaded with added sugar, which can raise your risk for heart disease. Although egg yolks are high in cholesterol, recent research has found that an egg a day isn't associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

6. Walking Can Be Better for Your Heart Than Running. 
Brisk walking might have the edge over running. Any aerobic activity improves heart health. But in a recent study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, walkers saw twice the reduction in heart disease as runners when both groups burned the same number of calories while exercising. That means that if you walk you should exercise about twice as long as runners to get those benefits.

7. The Best Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids is Salmon. 
Both salmon and walnuts are great ways to boost your omega-3 intake, which can benefit heart health. But salmon is better for you: Walnuts pack loads of ALA (the plant-based source of omega-3s), which your body must convert into EPA and DHA (forms of omega-3s your body can use), and the conversion process is inefficient. On the other hand, fish-based sources, such as salmon, already contain DHA and EPA-which is why many experts tout fatty fish as the better option.

8. Signs of a Heart Attack May Not Be Chest Pain. 

Although chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, others include nausea, sweating, shortness of breath and light-headedness, as well as pain in the back, stomach, arms, neck or jaw. Women are somewhat more likely than men to have the other symptoms-which is why many women do not get proper medical help.