Experts debunk heart disease myths
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. Top heart doctors share the primary misconceptions many people still believe about this often avoidable disease.
“Heart disease is a man’s problem.”
It’s true that heart disease risk is higher in men than in women – but only slightly, says Dr Eugene Yang, Chair of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Section.
Here’s what might be a main reason for the commonly held belief: “What we see is that the risk of heart disease tends to be lower in women when they are younger, but then women sort of catch up as they get older,” Dr Yang explains. According to research published in Biology of Sex Differences, this trend comes down to how oestrogen – the female sex hormone – works to protect the cardiovascular system. That’s why when oestrogen levels start to decline during menopause, female rates of heart disease start to match that of their male counterparts.
An added complication? Despite this phenomenon, women “continue to get less preventative care for heart disease,” says Dr Sonia Tolani, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist and assistant professor of medicine. This is even more problematic because heart disease is actually more fatal for women than for men and kills three times as many women as breast cancer.
“Thin people have no heart disease risk”
A leaner pant size doesn’t always mean someone is in tip-top shape – perhaps especially when it comes to heart health. Research strongly suggests that weight alone is not a no-fail indicator of someone’s cardiovascular disease risk.
One well-known 2008 study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City found that about half of people considered to be overweight showed blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range. Meanwhile, a quarter of those at a normal weight were at elevated levels for these two heart disease risk markers. This doesn’t mean there isn’t value in watching your weight, but it’s a reminder that a slim appearance alone doesn’t mean you’re in superior health.
What might? Regular movement. “Even if you are not overweight, there is no doubt that a sedentary lifestyle puts you at a greater risk for heart disease,” Dr Yang explains. Some experts recommend that you aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (like brisk walking) per week, regardless of your size.