National Wear Red Day

It’s a little late to be telling you, but today is National Wear Red Day. Established by the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign, its aim is to alert women to the very real possibility of their own heart disease. Many women ignore risk factors and behaviors that lead to heart disease because they think of it as a man’s disease. But the truth is, heart disease is the number one reason for death among women. Yep, number one.

My mother struggled with heart disease for over twenty years before my father developed any heart trouble–and he was 71 at the time. Her quality of life was severely hampered by her heart problems: she had two angioplasties, a quadruple bypass,  one stroke, poor circulation which made it hard for her to walk and thousands of dollars in medical bills, including $600/month in prescription medicines. Not to mention the threat of death that lurked around the corner at all times. That’s not a good way to live.

So even if you don’t think that you’ll die of a heart attack, think again. The statistics say that your chances are good. But even if you don’t—and who’s going to quibble about reasons when the time comes?—do you really want to compromise your health the way my mother did? She had all the risk factors: she was significantly overweight, diabetic, had high cholesterol and smoked for most of her adult life. (When she went in for her quadruple bypass and was asked when she quit smoking, she said, “Today.”)

I myself only recently quit smoking and I’m overweight. So far, knock on wood, I haven’t developed heart disease–that I know of. I haven’t had my cholesterol checked in years and really have no idea what shape my arteries are in. I eat reasonably healthfully, but not perfectly, I have a sedentary lifestyle and rarely exercise. As I write these words, I’m uncomfortably aware that I might be following in my mother’s footsteps and not even know it.

Because, unlike my mother, most people don’t experience symptoms before having a heart attack or stroke. Heart disease is one of those conditions that kills without warning. It is up to you to reduce your risk factors by watching your cholesterol levels and your weight, quitting smoking, increasing your activity level and cultivating healthy eating habits. It is also a good idea to know your cholesterol and fasting blood sugar levels. Then take the Go Red Heart Checkup to assess your risk of developing heart disease.