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5 Common Heart Health Myths Debunked

From the Show: Sharecare Radio
Summary: What does "heart healthy" really mean?
Air Date: 2/9/16
Duration: 10
Host: Darria Long Gillespie, MD, MBA
Guest Bio: Holly S. Andersen, MD
Holly-AndersenDr. Holly S. Andersen is the Director of Education and Outreach for The Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at The New York Presbyterian Hospital - Weill Cornell Medical Center, where she is additionally an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Attending Cardiologist. She is also the Scientific Advisor to the newly formed Women’s Heart Alliance and has been an on-air medical consultant to ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Evening News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Early Show, The Fox Television Network, The Fox News Channel, The British Broadcasting Company, and MTV.
5 Common Heart Health Myths Debunked
Heart disease is the number-one cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., yet many don’t know the true facts about heart disease and heart health.

In honor of American Heart Month and Go Red, cardiologist Dr. Holly Andersen will bust through the top five heart health myths and share how you can keep your heart strong.

Sharecare is the leading online health and wellness engagement platform providing millions of consumers with a personal, results oriented experience by connecting them to the most qualified health resources and programs they need to improve their health. It’s time now for Sharecare Radio on Here’s your host, Dr. Darria.

DR. DARRIA: Hello, it’s Dr. Darria. Welcome back. February is American Heart Month. As many of you know, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. It’s killing one woman in the U.S. every minute. With us to talk about that today, I have cardiologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and the Director of Education and Outreach for the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute. My next guest deals with this every day and what happens when patients don’t look after your heart. She has been selected as one of American’s best doctors and America’s top cardiologist. You have probably seen her everywhere from The Dr. Oz Show to ABC World News Tonight to MTV and Fox News. Today she’s going to talk about some common knowledge facts and some myths. Dr. Holly Andersen, welcome to Sharecare Radio.

DR. ANDERSEN: So happy to be here.

DR. DARRIA: I am very excited. I was looking at some of your work online, including earlier last year when you spoke on stage with Barbara Streisand.

DR. ANDERSEN: Yes, I did.

DR. DARRIA: How was that – first of all?

DR. ANDERSEN: It was really exciting. It was part of the Tina Brown’s Women in the World event. It was a jammed-packed audience of really incredible people, primarily women. The topics were amazing worldwide. It was really an honor and a privilege to be able to sit up there and to actually talk about heart disease in women because it is so important. It is our number one health crisis. Barbara Streisand has really taken it on as a gender issue. She doesn’t have heart disease. It has been a great opportunity to try to educate people – in particular, women – to be proactive about their heart health.

DR. DARRIA: Yes. That’s exactly why we’re talking about this today. I know that one of the things you talked about then is the myth that heart disease is something that I don’t need to worry about if I’m younger; it’s something that happens to older men. Right? Talk to us about that.

DR. ANDERSEN: It’s really a shame that that’s the stigma and there is a stigma attached to it. More women die of heart disease every year than all cancers combined. More women die of heart disease then breast cancer at every age. Although we’ve made great strides in research and death rates due to heart disease has been decreasing for decades in men and, more recently, in older women. The most recent population data shows that heart disease is actually increasing in our youngest adults and probably increasing faster among young women age 29-50 who have no idea that it is even a possibility.

DR. DARRIA: So, you said 29?


DR. ANDERSEN: When we’re 29, we’re not thinking about heart disease. What does heart disease look like in a 29 year old?

DR. ANDERSEN: It can look the same way. Heart disease that leads to stroke and heart attack generally comes from plaque – atherosclerotic or fatty cholesterol filled plaque that clogs up our arteries and can cause heart attacks and strokes. We’re finding that it can start as early as teenagers and pre-teens. It takes a while for it to get built up. The great thing is, there is so much you can do to prevent heart disease and the earlier you start the better chance for it to not being a problem in your life. Everything that you do that is good for your heart is good for the rest of you.

DR. DARRIA: Yes. Yes. This is a good thing and you’re right so--much of it is prevention. What I tell my patients – a lot of them think “my family had diabetes” or “my parents were obese so I will be, too.”

DR. ANDERSEN: That’s not true.

DR. DARRIA: Exactly.

DR. ANDERSEN: One of the most sexy and hot topics in science now is something we know and we have found out to be – it’s called epigenetics – which means the way you live your life, what you think about, what you eat, the physical activity you do and the sleep you get can change the way your genes are translated into proteins. We see it even real time. People who are optimistic, who are able to focus on the part of the glass that is half full actually live longer and have less disease than those who don’t. Even if you have a terrible family history, there is so much you can do now--even outside of medications; just by lifestyle--to reduce your risk.

DR. DARRIA: It’s so true and lifestyle plays such a big factor. As we’re talking about heart disease and women in their 20’s and 30’s and developing that plaque, lifestyle is really a key driver for them right then and there, right? To reverse that and start doing some prevention.

DR. ANDERSEN: Absolutely. We’re also recognizing stress is a risk factor. The millennials are the ones that are the most stressed in our country right now and, actually, women report more stress than men. I think it is important to actively try to reduce your everyday level of stress. It’s harder to measure, right? It’s harder to measure. It’s not a number that we can put on it. But, what we’re finding is that it really translates into a healthier body and a healthier life.

DR. DARRIA: Although, I do have to say that we have an app at Sharecare that actually does measure your stress levels. You should check that out.

DR. ANDERSEN: Oh, good. I’ll check it out.

DR. DARRIA: It is an app on Android – if you have it. It’s amazing. You often don’t even realize. That is one of the things with all of our stress levels is that without having that mindfulness, that you are stressed. It takes that moment. If somebody is in their 20’s and 30’s, what should they do? Do they need to make an appointment with their doctor and get their cholesterol checked? Where do they start?

DR. ANDERSEN: I don’t think that it’s a bad idea for somebody in their 20’s to have their blood pressure checked, have their cholesterol levels taken and have their sugar level taken. With those three simple blood tests, you can find out a lot about where you are right now. I also would say the more important part of your physical exam is your waistline more than your overall weight because it is the fat around our waist that is metabolically active and, actually, makes our blood pressure worse. It makes us more prone to developing diabetes. It makes us more likely to have bad cholesterol levels. Anything we can do to try to keep our waistlines trim or anything we can do to even reduce our waistline by a quarter of an inch can be very important and healthy for us. I think you say “the old man’s disease” and it’s true. We, as cardiologists, always depict heart disease as an old man’s disease. I have taken care of some very world-prominent, VIP, recognizable female patients with heart disease that don’t want to talk about their heart disease because it’s an old man’s disease. Women don’t know about heart disease because women don’t talk about heart disease. Very few women can actually name – we did a study – very few women can name another woman in their lives with heart disease – 29%. Only 11% can name someone who has died of heart disease; yet, it’s the number one cause of death. We are encouraging people to talk about their disease in a very empowering and very uplifting way because, even if you get diagnosed with this disease, you can do very, very well.

DR. DARRIA: There is so much we can do right now. You said it earlier. When you are looking at statistics and we talk about breast cancer when you’re in your 30’s. It’s something a lot of us think about in our 30’s and 40’s. But, you’re saying that at every age heart disease is killing more women than breast cancer.
DR. ANDERSEN: More women die of heart disease at every age.

DR. DARRIA: It is important to note. We need to focus on both of them.

DR. ANDERSEN: One in 32 women die of breast cancer and 1 in 3 die of heart disease.

DR. DARRIA: Wow. Such high numbers. We want to reduce that today. I hope we can help reduce that on this call.


DR. DARRIA: Another myth that we want to talk about is that there are warning signs for high blood pressure. There is a reason we call it “silent killer”. It’s not true. Talk to us about that.

DR. ANDERSEN: Very, very, very few people will know when their blood pressure goes higher. When I tell somebody that they have high blood pressure for the first time they are like, “I don’t understand. I’ve had low blood pressure my whole life.” Well, you do until you don’t. Many women and men get diagnosed with high blood pressure in their 50’s. But, there are some people – and this tends to run in families – there are people who drink a lot of alcohol in their 20’s and 30’s that their blood pressure is quite high. They don’t even know because they never go to a doctor really until they are 30 or 40, so they might have had untreated high blood pressure for 10 years. It’s very treatable. Before the age of 45, men are more likely to have high blood pressure. After age 45, women become more prevalent.

DR. DARRIA: Really?

DR. ANDERSEN: Seventy percent of women over the age of 65 have high blood pressure in this country. The most recent trial, which you may have talked about, that just came back at the end of last year called the “Sprint Trial” actually found that – we think that 140/90 or less has been normal but, actually, lower blood pressure is even better. So, 120/80, or less, is most desirable. Even if you are not traditionally above that 140/90, being physically active, cutting down on salt, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can all help your blood pressure.

DR. DARRIA: Yes. Those are great points. You’re right. Having even lower than 120/80 is better. For all of our audience, that higher blood pressure is kind of like a higher pressure going through a hose. If it’s constantly at a higher level, it can cause weakness with that hose and cause problems downstream. You want to lower that pressure.

DR. ANDERSEN: Absolutely. It’s one of the most important risk factors for stroke and heart attack, if not the most important.

DR. DARRIA: I know in the E.R., the very few cases of somebody who have had a stroke or heart attack at a young age, they inevitably come in with a very, very high blood pressure.

DR. ANDERSEN: It’s so easy to get your blood pressure checked. If you’re 20, if you’re 25 you can get it checked at a pharmacy. Get your blood pressure checked. Know what it is and, no matter what, do things that help you stay healthy.

DR. DARRIA: You mention those. You mentioned physical activity. I’m always happy to repeat it a thousand times. How much physical activity do you want people to get?

DR. ANDERSEN: I would say, it’s always recommended that people say to get 150 minutes a week, okay? But I would say, physical activity is the fountain of youth. Any physical activity that you do that gets your heart rate up, is good for you. If you don’t have time for 50 minutes, do 10 minutes. Do 5 minutes here and there. You don’t have to do it any one time. It’s better to do 20 or 30 or 40 minutes of physical activity a day than to do two and a half hours on Sunday. Sixty percent of United States adults have no regular physical activity. We know that prolonged sitting – which most of us do at our jobs – we know that prolonged sitting predicts our heart disease risk. Physical activity improves your blood pressure, decreases your risk of diabetes, it improves your HDL. It is probably the single most important thing you can do to improve your sleep. It’s good for your bones. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your heart. It’s really important to try to be active in your day when you can be.

DR. DARRIA: Did you just say that 60% of the United States adults have no regular physical activity?

DR. ANDERSEN: Yes. Sixty percent of United States adults have no regular physical activity looking at it as a general population. Our children now are more obese and less physically active than ever before.

DR. DARRIA: It’s so true. So many reasons. You’re right. Studies have shown that you don’t have to go out and do 30 minutes all in one sitting. If you can do 10 minutes here and 10 minutes later today, that’s great. People who aim for that are actually more likely to succeed and keep it up than somebody who says, “I can only do it if I can sit down and do 45 minutes of working out.”

DR. ANDERSEN: If you can’t, if you think about doing 10 minutes a day versus nothing over a week, over a month, over a year. Huge difference.

DR. DARRIA: Huge accumulative and it’s definitely a lot easier to get myself to go even on those days that I don’t feel like going on a run. “I’m just going to do 10 minutes. I can do 10 minutes.”

DR. ANDERSEN: Exactly. Most of the time, you can probably fit a little more time in. Ten minutes is better than nothing and that’s all too often the choice people have. “I don’t have the time.” You have the time to at least start with 10 minutes. Walk there, take the stairs, get up from your desk and move around. People are having standing desks now because we know that sitting is so bad. Don’t sit at your desk all day. Get up and move around. I have dumb bells in my office just so that I can do something between patients.

DR. DARRIA: That’s great. You’re right. The other factor, too, then, just is that even if you are working out for 30-45 minutes a day, if you’re sitting all day long, that can be detrimental. It’s still good to get up and move, walk around, get the blood flowing. My co-workers will know that I sometimes play music in my office if I need a little quick break. I would never let them see me dancing but I won’t say that it doesn’t happen.

DR. ANDERSEN: Music is a great stress reducer if it’s pleasing music to you. Obviously, I think most people can do a lot more physical activity if they are listening to music.

DR. DARRIA: My favorite tip is I have a certain running mix of some of my very favorite songs and I only let myself listen to that running playlist if I’m running.

DR. ANDERSEN: That’s a good one.

DR. DARRIA: It makes me go for a run and then, actually when that song comes on, you always feel like running a little bit harder. It makes me very happy. That’s my tip for the day.

DR. ANDERSEN: Speaking to the majority of people who aren’t regularly physically active, no one feels like doing it for the first few times that you do it but then after you do it, maybe three, four or five times, you feel so much better. You sleep better. Your stress levels are better. Your metabolism is better. You eat better. When I have somebody coming in who is very stressed and has been feeling they are feeling unhealthy, they are not sleeping, they don’t eat well, I start out by getting them to be physically active. That gets their sleep better and when your sleep is better, your eating is better – period.

DR. DARRIA: Yes. A lot of times, you’re eating depends on how sleepy you are, your emotions, and you’re trying to kind of stimulate something. Physical activity also addresses that. It may give you more energy by just for going for a walk and you don’t need to reach for the chocolate or the sugar or whatever other less helpful habit you were going to do.

DR. ANDERSEN: If you are sleep deprived, there are hormones that get released that make you eat more and eat things that you normally wouldn’t want to. It’s very hard to fight that. If you’re sleep deprived, it’s very, very hard to not eat the things you shouldn’t. So, again, physical activity is the best thing you can do to give yourself the most restorative sleep and that’s a very important part of health and eating well.

DR. DARRIA: Hopefully, all of our listeners we’ve given them some tips to just get out and get moving. Ten minutes a day – get your favorite music, do whatever you want, whether it is walking or whatever. Take the stairs--all of those are really beneficial. Dr. Holly, I want to talk about another myth. Do you have a favorite other myth out there that you hear out there from your patients? If not, I still have a whole other list.

DR. ANDERSEN: Yes, go ahead. Let me hear yours.

DR. DARRIA: The other one is something that I hear from my patients a lot. That is that heart attacks present with chest pain.


DR. DARRIA: We always have to tell them that because I see that in the E.R. time and time again.

DR. ANDERSEN: Chest pain is the most common symptom for a heart attack – chest pain. But 40% of women having heart attacks, have no chest pain. See, the heart can’t feel pain, so the brain has to come up with another place for that duress to come from. Women having heart attacks are much more likely to have pain that is not – at least much of the time--it could be in the jaw, the back, the arm. They could just have a sense of indigestion or light headedness. But, the majority of women and men having heart attacks, they know something is wrong. Every man knows that they are at risk for a heart attack but not enough women know that they are also at risk. Even women who believe that they are having a heart attack are far less likely to call 9-1-1.

DR. DARRIA: Yes. Why is that? They are later to be diagnosed. Later to get treatment.

DR. ANDERSEN: Every time we poll this, women who actually believe they have had something wrong with their heart or who believe they are having a heart attack are much less likely to pull the trigger and call 9-1-1. It doesn’t tell us why. But, why? Too busy to have a heart attack right now? “I have to go make dinner for the family.” I see this. I see this in my practice all the time. Women might be coming in at the end of the day just to have her blood drawn and then she says, “Can I just speak to Dr. Andersen?” I go in there and she says, “Actually, this morning, I had an hour and a half of the worst pain I’ve ever had.” I said, “Oh, So, you’re here now because you think you had a heart attack this morning? What did you do?” “Well, I was just hoping that it would go away.” Don’t sit there and hope that it will go away. All too often, the first sign of heart disease is a heart attack or sudden death. Okay? Time is muscle. I’d much rather be taking care of indigestion in the emergency room than missing somebody’s heart attack.

DR. DARRIA: Yes. And that’s what I tell people when they say, “I didn’t have a heart attack, but I came to the E.R.” That’s okay. That’s much better news to find out that you didn’t. We often talk about “men are stubborn, they won’t go seek care”. Their wives are often the ones that bring them in. But then, those wives are the same ones that when they are having a heart attack themselves, as you said, are not seeking their own care.

DR. ANDERSEN: Yes. There was a great essay that was written right after I presented at the American Heart Association last November. It was called, The Other Woman. It was about a doctor who had this woman who brought her husband in time after time after time and would check every one of his details, every one of his medicines. One moment, one day, she wasn’t there. She had died of a heart attack and now he was left really to fend by himself. So, women – we need to take care of ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves because we want to be there. We want to be there.

DR. DARRIA: That is so true. That is so powerful. As women that take care of so many people in our lives, we always have to take care of ourselves as well.

DR. ANDERSEN: I would say that, you might have a strong, powerful daughter that may be the head of a company, but when she becomes a mother she is going to do what you do. We have to do a better job there.

DR. DARRIA: Dr. Holly, that is a great way to end. As females, look out for ourselves but also look out for the other females in our lives -- be it our mothers our daughters – look out for their health as well. For February Heart month, thank you so much. This was a fascinating segment. Very, very helpful.

DR. ANDERSEN: Again, thank you.

DR. DARRIA: This is Dr. Holly Andersen, cardiologist from New York-Presbyterian Hospital and I hope you enjoyed it. If you missed any part of it, remember you can download it at This is Sharecare Radio and this is Dr. Darria. Follow us at Dr. Darria. I love all of your comments. Or, Tweet us @SharecareInc as well. Thanks for listening and stay well.