Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day next week to wear RED – pull it out tonight to wear on Friday, February 5, 2016. The American Heart Association has set aside the first Friday in February to call attention to cardiovascular disease in WOMEN. Did you know that one in three deaths in women are caused by heart attacks and strokes? This is not to minimize the deaths and struggles from cancers, but to create awareness about the incredibly high frequency of these diseases in women, and therefore encourage more women to take positive steps to improve their health. The best news is that the vast majority heart attacks and strokes can be PREVENTED when people recognize, modify and treat their risk factors. So…let’s start with basics:

What is a “heart attack”? The heart is ultimately just a muscle, and like every other muscle, it needs a unique blood supply to provide the nourishment it needs to work. Although the heart muscle’s job is to move blood by pumping it, that blood being moved to the body is not the same blood that feeds the heart muscle itself. Instead, there are smaller blood vessels (called coronary arteries) that carry the specific blood that supplies the heart muscle. If one of these small arteries gets a clot or blockage that obstructs the blood flow, then the area of heart muscle that requires that blood supply will have the “attack” because it is not getting the fuel it needs, so that portion of the muscle can be hurt or destroyed. If the fuel line in your car were clogged, then your engine would have an “attack” because it wasn’t getting fuel. Similarly, a stroke is when an area of the brain has it’s blood supply cut off by a clot.

What can you do to decrease your risk of a heart attack or stroke?

  1. Quit smoking (always number one on my wish list for patients to improve their health!)
  2. Know your numbers- what is your BLOOD PRESSURE? your CHOLESTEROL? your BMI?
  3. Move MORE- whatever your baseline activity is, kick it up a notch!

Rather than focusing on losing twenty pounds, running a marathon, or getting off all your blood pressure medications in one month, pick a few small changes that you can easily incorporate into your life as a permanent change.

  1. Consider starting these changes by scheduling a physical with your family doctor to learn your “numbers” to help prioritize your lifestyle changes.
  2. Commit to one vegetarian meal per week (if that is not already part of your standard food rotation). If you are vegetarian, look at what you eat and add in new fruits or vegetables in different colors than you typically consume.
  3. If you are inactive, start walking 10-15 minutes per day. If you walk a mile per day, kick it up to a mile and a half. If you walk or jog a couple miles per day already, alternate with an exercise bike or swimming. The point here is that WHATEVER you are doing, take it up ONE notch.

BOTTOM LINE: Wear RED this Friday, 2/5/16, serving as a reminder to you and the people you love to prioritize learning your own personal risk for heart attacks and strokes- then start making changes to prevent these diseases!

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