February is American Heart Month and the first Friday of the month is known as “Go Red” For Women Campaign, which concentrates on women’s heart disease. In support of this very important health awareness month, GRAWA held its annual Chocolate and Wine Event on Feb. 7 at Veritas. This event not only allowed our members to gather and socialize while enjoying two heart-healthy (in moderation) pleasures, chocolate and wine, but also gave us the opportunity to raise funds and awareness for the American Heart Association.
While many of us hear and use the phrase “heart disease,” most of us are uncertain of its exact meaning. Heart disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular system, often resulting in the development of plaque in the walls of the arteries, which makes it harder for blood to flow. A heart attack or stroke occurs when the blood flow stops due to a blood clot. There are, of course, other forms of heart disease, but a stroke caused by a clot accounts for 87 percent of all heart disease cases.
Every year the statics regarding women and heart disease are devastating and continue to be underappreciated in our society. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in America. To be clear, that means that heart disease kills more women each year than all forms of cancer combined. Approximately one woman dies every minute as a result of cardiovascular disease.
Even more alarming is the fact that 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, yet, only one in five American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat. Furthermore, despite the fact that more women have died from heart disease than men each year since 1984, women make up only 24 percent of participants in all heart-related studies.
While there are some factors that are not in our control such as heredity, race and age, there are significant factors that we control that can decrease our likelihood of heart disease. Specifically, high blood pressure is the leading cause of a stroke and the most controllable (through medication) risk factor.
Not surprisingly, cigarette smoking significantly damages the cardiovascular system. As the American Heart Association describes, lack of physical activity and obesity create a vicious circle. They both increase your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which in turn increases one’s risk of heart disease. Also, diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol raise blood cholesterol levels; diets high in sodium contribute to increased blood pressure and obesity, which in turn increases the likelihood of heart disease.
As women, we often put our partners, children and work ahead of our own health. This year make the commitment to “Go Red” and put your long-term health first (at least a couple of times a week). The Heart Association recommends that every woman speak to her doctor about her blood pressure and cholesterol levels and if appropriate to educate oneself about the drug therapy options to lower one’s risk for heart disease. It is also no surprise that it is recommended that we each chose a healthy lifestyle, including a heart-healthy diet, physical activity and to avoid tobacco consumption. Of specific importance is to appreciate the difference between good fat (polyunsaturated fat) and bad fat (saturated fat) and how it should be integrated into heart healthy eating.
I fully appreciate that reaching the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity and making healthy, low sodium, low saturated fat and low cholesterol meals is no easy task in our very busy lives. However, I am making the personal commitment to live a more heart-healthy lifestyle.
It is no secret that my “baby weight” hasn’t disappeared yet and each day it seems that I put my commitments to my family, work and community ahead of my own health. This month, I have vowed to make a change, as I look at this important health issue in its most fundamental way, the healthier I am, the longer I should be around for my family and my community.
I urge everyone else to recognize the very real risk that heart disease poses and make the appropriate changes in each of our lives to have a heart healthy lifestyle.
Melanie S. Wolk is special counsel with the law firm of Goldberg Segalla, LLP, and is the 31st president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys