Every woman should treat heart health as an important part of living. Why? Because heart healthy living means you understand the risk and preventative measures of heart disease and coronary heart disease. Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States? In 2017 heart disease was the cause of about one out of every five female deaths. I didn’t even have a clue about this until heart disease hit close to home for me.
The Heart Attack
An Unforgettable Evening
It had been a long day. I was six months pregnant. We had just finished unloading the truck from moving across Long Island. I had tried to take the day off from work but inevitably there was an emergency that required me to put in some frantic hours. I was spent by dinner time and my beloved partner suggested we stop everything and go check out the dining options in our new downtown.
It was the perfect break. We had a lovely meal. Everything felt doable and under control again. We got into the car to head back to our new home and my phone rang. Within seconds my husband instinctively knew to put the car back in park and turn off the music.
“He’s what? No. Did you just say that dad is having a heart attack?”
I couldn’t believe what my mother was saying. It felt like time stopped. My own heart was skipping beats. My father, who survived WWII and the treacherous journey to America. Who survived fighting in the Vietnam War and survived cancer. My best friend since birth was now also having to fight for blood flow through his heart. I was in shock.
My mom promised to keep me informed, but had to go. They were in a small town in central Oklahoma, which meant they needed to quickly life flight my dad to the nearest hospital. I’ll always hold the image of my father in that helicopter in my heart. There he was, having a heart attack, hooked up to all sorts of machines and sensors and he couldn’t help but smile. He found joy even in the midst of emergency.
What Survival Teaches Us
My father survived that heart attack. And although we all live life more cautiously since, we also live life with more joy for the moment.
Survival teaches us to keep going, take better care of ourselves, plan ahead what you can, but also create a positive environment that can support you when the inevitable flow of life may strain your resources and strength. I am grateful for all that my father has survived in his lifetime and how invaluable the lessons from his survival have been for me.
Learning From Survival
After my father’s cancer surgery in 2010, he committed himself to stay cancer free through a healthful lifestyle, which included cancer-fighting foods. I had committed myself to living a healthier life during that time as well and when I researched “cancer-fighting foods” I was surprised to find that they were the same foods I was encouraged to eat as a woman striving to change her relationship with food for good.
Similarly, I engaged in heart health learning after my father’s heart attack in 2014. But then I became a mother and all of a sudden I seemed to lose sight of my own health as all my energy was devoted to others.
What was really interesting was when it seemed that 110% of me was dedicated to either motherhood or work, I had close friends start working for American Heart Association. This is a nonprofit organization in the United States dedicated to saving lives through cardiovascular research, education and care. These women helped me shift my attention back to taking care of me and my heart as I was shocked to learn the statistics about women and heart health in our country.
In 2017 I started to go public on my social about the #GoRed movement to bring awareness to the importance of heart health for women. Every year I proudly wear my red on National Wear Red Day (the first Friday in February) and share my why. The good news about heart disease and stroke is that an estimated 80% are preventable, which makes awareness and education key to saving lives.
What to Know About Heart Health
Recently I had the opportunity to engage with Mark Hurley, American Heart Association Vice President of Communications for Greater New York & New York City. I wanted to know from his experience in his position what advice was available on three main topics: What were the biggest assumptions women make about heart heath, best preventative actions for heart disease and the most important resources. Here is what I learned.
Assumptions about Heart Health
The biggest assumption women make about heart disease, and I am very much included in this, is that it impacts men more than women and that cancer is the bigger threat. The truth is that heart disease kills more women than men and even more than all the different types of cancer combined. To learn more myth busters, check out this article.
How to Prevent Heart Disease
The most important preventative measure you can take against heart disease is to assess your risk factor. Once you fully understand and are aware of what puts you at risk for and the signs of a heart attack or stroke, you are empowered to start improving your risk through lifestyle changes. Check out this article for the American Heart Association’s top eight preventative measures.
Important Heart Health Resources
The best resource is you. Now, hear me out. You become the catalyst for change when you are committed to your own heart health. And lasting change is sparked when people come together. Knowing this it makes joining the Go Red for Women movement an opportunity to be a part of ending cardiovascular diseases. So, yes, the most important resource is you.
How to Prioritize Heart Health
Awesome! I know all this now, but what do I do? What does it actually look like to designate heart health as important in the series of life responsibilities? Well, here is what I knew I could commit to:
- Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack
- Be mindful of what I eat. Not dieting, but being present in how a food fuels me or makes me feel.
- Move my body and get my blood flowing most days.
- And never take up smoking again.
Let me know in the comments what you might add or subtract from this list. How could you personalize heart health actions for your own life? Because that is how you do it. That is how you prioritize heart health. Proud of you. Love you. Take care of that beautiful heart of yours.