TODAY   |  February 05, 2010

How well do you know heart health?

NBC’s chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman quizzes TODAY’s Ann Curry about women and heart health.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> by campbell's healthy request soup.

>>> february is american heart month, and this month, we've got "heart by the numbers today." more than 450,000 women die each year from heart disease , but how much do you know about the risk factors and prevention? we have nbc's chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman , here with a pop quiz on some of the most important heart health facts, and some of them might surprise you.

>> this is my pop quiz for you.

>> all right. i've got the questions. first of all, let's talk about this idea. i mean, it's the number one killer of women in the world.

>> it is. look, we talk about ovarian cancer , we talk about breast cancer , but the reality is, heart disease will kill us. and especially in our culture, in this western culture , diet, cigarettes, sedentary life. it's sort of the triple threat for women and we, because we nurture everyone else, a lot of times those warning signs that we could be in trouble, we don't pay attention to them.

>> so, there's a real push now to make women and everyone really more aware.

>> that's right.

>> and that's why everyone's wearing red today.

>> that's why.

>> and also why we have this short quiz on the broadcast on our heart health knowledge. the first question is, coronary heart disease is something that develops very quickly in a person. true or false?

>> what do you think?

>> i think false, because i think it takes a long time because it's got to be related to diet.

>> that's exactly right. and so, we know -- and there's another question that sort of relates to this in this quiz, but we know that the cholesterol build-up and the inflammation and all those things that lead to heart disease later is a gradual process, which is why you can in your 40s, 50s or 60s reverse heart disease and stop it. great research has been done in men, but there's no reason to think women can't reverse heart disease also, and that's by going back to the basics -- exercise, watching your diet, knowing your numbers like your triglycerides and your cholesterol, and, although i take aspirin every day, you should talk to your doctor about whether aspirin makes sense for you.

>> okay. we've heard a lot about weight and how it relates to heart disease . here's another question. at what age can an overweight female start to show risk factors for cardiovascular disease ? is it preschool years, tween and teen years, 20s and 30s or per perimenopause?

>> what do you think?

>> i think this is sort of a trick question , but i would think the 20s and 30s.

>> you know what? interestingly, earlier, toddler years. and we know from doing autopsies on children who have died in car crashes and from other causes, and you can start to see the fatty streaking in the heart vessels in toddlers who are on high-fat diets. so, the idea that this sort of is a continuation of our first question -- the heart disease we deal with, by the time we are in our perimenopausal years, has its root in our childhoods.

>> oh, my goodness. on the flip side , being overweight in your twilight years may add to your life? true or false?

>> what do you think?

>> well, i've heard this both ways. i guess i'm going to say false because it seems counterintuitive, but i've heard a lot of people say it's true.

>> and a new study says that it is true. this is the cautionary thing. this is an australian study that showed for women over their 60, 70 years of age, if they were a little overweight, they, in fact, didn't die as much from heart disease . but here's the caveat. we know that the fatter you are, the more diabetes you have, the higher your risk of heart disease . so, being a little overweight is good for your bones and good for your heart. being a lot overweight is not. and in this regard, i think women still need to know their waist circumferences. for a women , it can't be more than 38 inches around.

>> what's a little overweight, like five pounds?

>> like me.

>> you're not overweight.

>> but five or ten pounds.

>> and the other one affects everybody, lack of sleep. along with the rest of your body, your heart needs a deep sleep to rest. i would say true.

>> yeah. you know it is. because during your sleep, that's when you regenerate and nurture your body. so, if your spouse or your mate says that you snore or you stop breathing at night or you sleep poorly, you should see someone, because if you're not getting deep sleep , then, in fact, you're probably not resting your heart and lungs. and one of the best little tricks is ask yourself if you dream. if you don't dream, you might not be getting to the deep levels of sleep, and a simple sleep study will tell you.

>> okay. lastly, which of the following is the most important thing a woman can do to reduce her risk of heart attack ? a, limit salt intake. b, quit smoking . c, reduce stress. d, exercise.

>> you know this one.

>> the most important thing. well, i would say quit smoking .

>> trumps everything else up there. for most people, you don't have to worry about your salt. of course, we know stress and exercise play a role. the number one, number one factor that will put you in a grave early is cigarettes. the only product that when used as directed will kill you.

>> all right. you said it here, anyone who's smoking, pay attention .

>> throw them away now.

>> we want you to live a long life. and dr. nancy snyderman , working so hard to make sure we all do. thank you very much.