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Myths Busted about Heart Disease and Fat

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Myth: Most women die from cancer.
Fact: Heart disease has been the leading cause of death for women since 1908. Six times more women will die from heart disease this year than will die from breast cancer. In fact, heart disease will kill more women than all forms of cancer combined.

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Myth: Heart disease is a man’s problem.
Fact: Since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease each year. Women are twice as likely as men to die after a heart attack.

Myth: Only older women have heart disease.
Fact: Heart disease threatens all women, even those as young as 30 and 40. For example, the rate of sudden cardiac death of women in their 30s and 40s is increasing much faster than in men their same age, rising 30% in the last decade. A majority of women aged 25-35, a key audience to learn and practise heart disease prevention, believe that cancer is their greatest health risk. We know that heart disease is 20-30 years in the making, so young women especially need to be aware of risk and prevention. As women approach menopause however, our risks of heart disease increase alarmingly compared to men’s risks.

Myth: Most doctors know about women’s risk of heart disease.
Fact: A 2005 American Heart Association study showed that only 8% of family physicians and 17% of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men.

Myth: Women are great communicators, so they know how to talk to their doctors about heart disease.
Fact: A 2002 survey of women with heart disease showed that only 35% initially told their physicians about their heart-related symptoms, and only 8% of physicians who received this information correctly recognized the health problem as potentially heart-related. Only 23% of women surveyed asked their physician questions about heart disease even when they were initially diagnosed.

Myth: Women and men with heart disease get the same care.
Fact: Far too often, women fighting heart disease are not accurately diagnosed and do NOT receive the care they need when they need it. A study published in the May 2008 issue of the journal Heart showed that among heart patients, women were less likely than men to receive medications like beta blockers, statins and ACE inhibitors – which are crucial to prevent further heart problems. Women are also less likely than men to receive implanted defibrillator devices to control irregular heartbeats – or even aspirin! – following a cardiac event.

Myth: If heart disease isn’t in your family, it really isn’t a problem for you.
Fact: A family history of heart disease does increase risk of developing the disease. But many women without any family history have heart attacks or heart problems.

Risk factors include:
• high blood pressure
• high LDL cholesterol / low HDL cholesterol
• diabetes
• smoking
• obesity
• physical inactivity
• stress

Myth: You can’t do anything to stop heart disease.
Fact: Yes, you can! You can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease if you have the information you need, know the questions to ask your physician, and commit to making heart-smart changes to your lifestyle. Experts estimate that up to 80% of heart disease is preventable.

Heart Health and Weight

We know that carrying excess body weight is bad for our health. Or is it? Recent studies have looked at overall health outcomes of overweight subjects and found these surprising results that may make us look twice at some older myths about being overweight:

MYTH No. 1: A high BMI number means you need to lose weight.
FACT: Body Mass Index (BMI) has been considered the best indicator of obesity, but it doesn’t differentiate between weight gained by pumping iron or weight gained by eating too much. Having a BMI number over 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese. But Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, had a BMI of 33 at the peak of his body-building career.

MYTH No. 2: Extra pounds are always bad news.
FACT: People considered overweight by these BMI standards—25 to 30—might actually have a survival advantage after heart attacks and surgery. Researchers say that people who are overweight are also less likely to die from respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s, liver disease, and a number of other causes than people of normal weight in the same age bracket. Only those who are actually considered obese have clearly higher risks of heart disease mortality compared to normal weight or overweight people.

MYTH No. 3: Weight loss is always good, no matter how you achieve it.
FACT: Yo-yo dieting can strain the heart, disturb your metabolism and cause other serious health problems. That’s why experts generally recommend a slow steady weight loss of no more than one pound per week, instead of crash dieting to lose weight quickly only to rapidly gain it all back. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are very different from crash and yo-yo dieting, but they can lead to potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias and other serious problems. Researchers now advise that it’s better to be 5-10 pounds overweight than to engage in unhealthy weight loss plans.

MYTH No. 4: Slender equals healthy.
FACT: Slender may look good, but people who are relatively thin can still carry unhealthy visceral fat internally that pads vital organs, putting them at risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. You can’t assess cardiac risk factors from just looking at people’s physical shape. We sometimes think that diabetes is linked to inactivity and overeating, for example, yet 20% of diabetics are thin – likely thanks to genetics.

MYTH No. 5: Fat is fat, and it’s always bad.
FACT: Even overweight people can actually be fit. Your fitness is partly based on how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after exertion; the quicker the heart can recover, the better shape it’s in. Researchers now believe that overweight people with fatty liver deposits are at much greater cardiovascular and diabetes risk than overweight people without them. Extra weight seems to be worse for some people than others. But physical activity and a healthy diet do tend to offset the risks of being overweight; if you’re only slightly overweight but still active, you may be less likely to experience health problems like high cholesterol or heart disease. Data from more than 88,000 women in the Nurses Health Study shows that lean but sedentary women had 1.48 greater risks for coronary heart disease than heavier but physically active women.

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