By Barbara Meyer
In “Just a Little Heart Attack”, a video short on Go Red for Women’s website, a character played by actress Elizabeth Banks, experiences troubling symptoms while helping to get her family out the door on a busy morning. While it takes a somewhat lighthearted approach (the first thing that she says when she calls a 911 operator is “Sorry to bother you”) the idea behind it is very serious. Women, who seem to naturally excel at taking care of others, are still learning to take better care of themselves.
More Than Just A Pretty Dress
Go Red For Women came about when the American Heart Association faced a serious challenge in 2004. Cardiovascular disease was claiming nearly 500,000 American women each year, but women were not paying attention and practicing proactive behavior that could reverse the trend. Many misconceptions about heart health abounded, and action was needed to save future lives. Go Red for Women with its red dress symbol was born, supporting awareness, research, education and community programs.
Matt Rountree, Communications Director for the American Heart Association explains, “In the fight against heart disease, a woman’s best defense is putting her health in the forefront through prevention. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women, but the good news is that it’s preventable 80% of the time, through proper physical activity, healthy diet, and quitting or never starting smoking. Visiting a doctor regularly and getting cholesterol and blood pressure levels checked will help you keep your positive efforts on track.”
Take Symptoms Seriously
Heart attacks are still commonly thought of as something experienced by men while rarely happening to women, but since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease. Some of the confusion stems from symptoms: cardiac arrest signs can be different in women and men. While commonalities are pain in the chest, neck, jaw, arms, or back, a woman’s symptoms of an upcoming heart attack can simply be anxiety, indigestion, fatigue, even trouble sleeping. Or, no symptoms at all.
Maybe that stiffness in your back is just from upping the resistance on your elliptical. Perhaps you feel wiped out due to staying up to comfort a sick child. In a woman’s busy life, the physical strains of an active schedule can mask crucial heart problem warnings. If you get in the habit of listening carefully to your body and noticing small differences in how you feel, you’ll be better able to detect when something is out of the ordinary. Sadly, some women put off seeing a doctor when they experience mild symptoms, like dizziness and shortness of breath for fear of being perceived as overreacting or creating a “false alarm”. Actually, physicians will applaud you for taking your symptoms seriously and not risking your health by delaying possible needed treatment, even if nothing is found to be wrong.
Exercise Options and Portion Distortion
Exercise and diet are the perfect partners to keep you on the path of sustained heart health. “In order to take care of your family, you have to take care of yourself, which begins with planning healthy food choices and getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day,” Matt observes. “Exercise doesn’t take extra equipment, a special place or even a whole lot of time. If a 30-minute block seems like a lot to spend all at once, break it up into 10-minute intervals that you can build into your schedule. Gardening, doing housework, walking the dog around the neighborhood, and playing with your kids in the yard provide a healthy workout, and they’re activities that you can do with your family.”
Restaurant portion sizes have increased, and so have the number of Americans eating out. Also increasing—our weight. Large restaurant portions have conditioned people to adopt the same standards to the food they serve their families at home. Compare recently published cookbooks with those of your mother and grandmother in the family bookshelf. Recommended serving sizes have increased, as well as calories. Many don’t know what a healthy portion actually looks like, and would be shocked to learn that it is half or even less than what they typically eat. A portion of meat should be the same size as a Smartphone, not an iPad. Get to know proper portion sizes of the foods that you and your family enjoy and base your meals and grocery estimates on them.
Skip processed foods and build meals around fresh ingredients, especially if you have a local farmers market for seasonal, locally sourced fruit, vegetables and meats. Have you seen a floor refinished, where layers of old paint and dirty residue are removed to reveal the beauty of the wood grain underneath? Similarly, removing excess salt, sugar, fat and artificial flavoring unmasks food’s true flavors. Enhance your food creatively with inexpensive spices and gradually decreasing your salt intake, and you’ll start to notice the flavor you gain, not the artificial extras that you lost.
Most of the sodium we consume is hidden, usually in processed foods. Many foods with high sodium like bread and rolls, cheese, pizza and salad dressing, don’t even taste salty. Many people might be surprised to learn that the saltiest part of their sandwich is the bun that holds it together! Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines even contain sodium. All the more reason not to add unnecessary salt to your diet and seek food choices that are naturally low in sodium.
Recharge Healthy Habits at the Annual Go Red for Women Luncheon
Feeling inspired? On Friday, November 14, you can join more than 750 women in helping raise awareness of the threat of heart disease and promoting prevention, by attending Lexington’s 7th annual Go Red for Women Luncheon. This highly anticipated event will take place at Lexington Center’s Heritage Hall from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Tickets are $100 each and tables are available for groups of ten. The luncheon will feature a survivor fashion show and health symposium, heart healthy vendor exhibits and a special appearance by Olympic medalist, best-selling author, and popular motivational speaker Bonnie St. John.
Go Red for Women’s national website is a rich resource of medical information, inspirational survivor stories, with tips on prevention, getting involved and even sharing your own story. Watch for Lexington, KY-born actress, singer and songwriter Laura Bell Bundy on the national website as this years’ spokesperson. Visit goredforwomen.org.
Every woman has the power to lead a healthier life, for herself and those she loves. Don’t let things that you can prevent keep you from being part of important life events with your family. Make a promise to put yourself on top of your own “to do” list, today and every day.