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Star Jones has reason to be excited about life these days. Not only is the TV personality working on a new multi-host talk show that she’s already shot the pilot for, she’s in the best heart health of her life. For Jones, though, that came after a lot of struggle.

“I’m in the best heart health I could ever have imagined given what I’ve been through in the last ten years and I want to encourage your listeners to get to the same state,” Jones told the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

Jones is a National Volunteer for the American Heart Association, a role she says she embraces with enthusiasm.

Three years ago, Jones was diagnosed with heart disease and had open-heart surgery – the kind where your chest is cracked open and removed from your body. Jones says she never knew that she was at risk for heart disease, particularly after surviving cancer as a young woman and maintaining her weight loss after gastric bypass surgery. She thought, as many do, that heart disease was a risk factor for old white guys.

“I had all the facts, but because I had been obese for so long, I had some of the genetic disorders for heart disease and I had not really done the things that were necessary in terms of the lifestyle I was a huge candidate for heart disease. If you are lethargic, if you have heart palpitations you can’t explain, if you have shortness of breath, if you get winded very easily or you get lightheaded from sitting to standing very quickly those could be symptoms of heart disease and we want to make sure that people go in and check and get an echocardiogram or an EKG done so you can make sure your heart is in optimal health.”

What helped Jones get to heart health – she says her cardiologist considers her among the 1% of Americans who are in superior heart health – is following a new lifestyle plan that includes eating right and exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise 3-4 times a week to keep your heart in shape. Jones did her part by changing what she ate and exercising.

“Once a week I got to a tennis clinic where I get beat down because I’m not good at it. I do tennis, I do Pilates and I do Soul Cycle spinning. I exercise 5 days a week. I had lost all the weight. I had gotten down to 145 pounds from 307. It wasn’t all the weight. But our constant lifestyle can also be something that diminishes our heart health. Did you know that 80% of heart disease is avoidable with simple lifestyle changes? If we take out some of the salt in our diet, if we reduce our caloric intake, if we get just a little bit of exercise, that would reduce the incidence of heart disease., especially in the African-American community.”


African-Americans and Heart Disease

African-American Women and Heart Disease

How to Prevent Heart Disease

Dr. B. Waine Kong answers your heart health related questions below.

Is coconut oil better to cook with than olive oil?

Both are good! Lard and animal fats are bad.  Interestingly, coconut oil has gone through an interesting history.  In times past, it was considered unhealthy because it has saturated fats to now realizing that it is a highly sought after “health food” and a quick source of energy.   Coconut water, coconut as well as coconut oil has been shown to help reduce infections as well as improve cholesterol.

What do stress tests show? My mom had a stress test in June 2013 which revealed no issues, and had a massive heat attack in July 2013 and passed away.

Unfortunately, testing and treating heart disease is not an exact science.  Your question poses a mystery but not a unique story.  Dr. Joe Hargrove, a great cardiologist, told me that a football coach came to him after he retired and said: “Doc, check me out. I need to know how much I can do now that I am retired.” Dr. Hargrove gave him the usually battery of tests that showed no heart disease and the coach died from a heart attack a week later.  An expert panel went back and looked at all the tests and found nothing suspicious.  Dr. Hargrove had done everything right but disaster struck anyway.

A stress test, by the way, is not related to our common perception of “stress” but a measure of the heart’s ability to respond to exercise (bicycle or treadmill) in a controlled environment. If any of the arteries are blocked or compromised, it usually shows up in an environment when the patient has immediate access to a cardiologist.

Is masturbating healthy for your heart?

I am one of those people who believe we have come a long way to view masturbation as an acceptable form of sexual expression and satisfaction.  Gone are the days when we viewed it as “evil” and “hideous”. While there has been no causal relationship established between masturbation and any form of mental or physical disorder—including heart disease, in those days, I wouldn’t be surprised that the guilt people would contribute to their ill-health one way or another. Studies now show that masturbation is frequent in both sexes and all ages and is a healthy part of sexual enjoyment.  So, knock yourself out!

I have a question for the doctor about lack of sleep and the long-term effects of a person who sleeps maybe 5-6 hours a day working two jobs and in school… please help!

We were designed to have six to eight hours of restful sleep each night but some people seem to do well on only four. So, its difficult to develop a formula that applies to everyone although I believe that if you live “abnormally”, there will be consequences. Our research reveals that sleep apnea (snoring, stopping breathing during sleep, frequent awakenings, difficulty falling and staying asleep as well as feeling sleepy during the day) is associated with  increased risk of heart disease.

Fortunately, there are good treatment available through the many sleep centers across the country. Get a referral from your doctor, get a sleep study and help is on the way.

Is there a preventive test or tests a person can take  to show heart disease, and/or a blockage.. Before you have any symptoms of a heart attack?

It is a simple question for which there should be a straightforward answer but he answer is actually very complicated. Yes. There are lots of test that can tell you if you are likely to get heart disease but if the question is: How can I prevent heart disease?  My view is that heart disease is preventable.  Can you imagine that a third of Americans will die from something that is preventable?  I am over 70 years old and have never had a hint of heart disease.  I play golf regularly with “The Shotmakers”, a fine group of men in Atlanta and we can all say about the same thing. Preventing heart disease is not a secret.

Fifty years ago, our teeth were in bad shape. We got tooth aches; we pulled the offending tooth, and eventually replaced them with false teeth. Dental labs were everywhere.  Now, no dentist in the country can make a living pulling teeth.  We did a public health thing by fluoridating he water, a clinical thing by asking people to do a check up twice per year and most importantly, The “Colgate” company persuaded us to brush and floss our teeth twice per day.  So, my children are between 30 and 45 years old and none of them have ever had a tooth ache and that applies to just about everybody less than forty years old in this country.  We can do the same thing with heart disease. Here are my seven steps to a lifetime of good health.

1. Go to a place of worship once a week and feed your soul and spirit. (African-Americans who go to church regularly, live 14 years longer that those who do not go to church.)  2.  Keep your blood pressure under control. (High blood pressure is the greatest contributor to heart disease.)  3.  Keep your cholesterol within normal limits. (clogged arteries)  4.  Become lean but not necessarily mean. (Being overweight is not a beauty issue it is a health issue)  5.  Eat sensibly, exercise daily and get a good night’s sleep  6.  Don’t smoke  7.  Access good (culturally sensitive) health care.

In the past, it was commonly believed that women had a natural protection and that’s why they lived seven years longer than men.  Well, we found out that women only live longer because they have fewer risk factors. So, if women live like men (smoke, drink and take risks) like men, they will die like men.