TODAY   |  February 08, 2010

Knowing your numbers could save your life

Cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston speaks with TODAY's Matt Lauer about how your blood pressure, cholesterol, waist size and artery age all play a crucial role in heart health.

Share This:

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

>> good for your heart.

>>> and this morning, in honor of american heart month, we're kicking off a special series "heart by the numbers today." this morning, the number one, as in heart disease , the number one cause of death in the united states . dr. arthur ageston is a preventive cardiologist in miami. dr. agetston, good morning.

>> good morning.

>> let's start with what we need to know , starting with salt. and we're not just talking about salt from the shaker, but salt that's already in our food. what's the main problem with consuming too much salt?

>> well, salt is a major risk factor for high blood pressure , which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, and we've been consuming more and more salt as a society. one teaspoon is 2,300 milligrams. that's about what we should be doing. we're consuming a lot more, like 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons.

>> and we're getting a lot of this in processed food . that's where we're getting a lot of the salt.

>> about 80% is in the processed fast food . that's what we have to reverse to get rid of it.

>> all right. so, the recommended amount of salt per day is about 2,300 milligrams --

>> one teaspoon.

>> and you're saying we're getting 3,400 milligrams. and so, what's the best way to make sure we're controlling the amount of salt in our diet?

>> it's not counting the salt or getting rid of the salt shaker . it's getting rid of the processed fast food . we should be cooking more at home, more vegetables, fresh foods.

>> you talk about salt being a cause of high blood pressure . let's talk about blood pressure right now. for a healthy individual, what is the appropriate blood pressure , or does it change for everybody?

>> it's, overall, ideal is less than 120 over 80. the big problem we see is blood pressure has to be controlled over months and years, not in isolated blood pressure readings. people come to my office after they've been stuck in traffic, they complain they have a headache. your blood pressure normally goes up when you have a headache.

>> so, what's the best way to get an accurate reading if blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day?

>> 120 over 80, and all the guidelines are based on when we're relaxed and quiet for a while, and it has to be several numbers over a period of time.

>> i hear a lot about triglycerides, and i'll be quite honest with you, i'm not quite sure what triglycerides are and why they're so important.

>> well, triglycerides are a fat. it's the major form in which fat is stored in our body, excess calories under our skin, in our bellies, and triglycerides facilitate cholesterol getting into our vessel walls, clogging things up. and it particularly facilitates that after we eat. after we eat, the triglycerides shoot up, especially at risk for heart attack and stroke.

>> so, when a lot of people take the fasting triglyceride levels, is that meaningless then?

>> that's been the tradition. it's not meaningless, but we get a lot more information from non-fasting.

>> all right. finally, let's talk about waist circumference. i hear a lot about bmi, body mass index . why is waist circumference so important?

>> well, body mass index is a way to adjust over weight for our height. 1 150-pound 5-footer is heavy and it includes muscle and bone. it's the fat that's important, particularly our belly fat . that's where we get our risk from, and that's reflected by our waist circumference.

>> 35 inches recommended for a woman, not above, and 40 for a man, not above. dr. agatston, good information. stay heart healthy. it's heart month. important stuff.