National Wear Red Day Feb. 3 - Heart health awareness for women

National Wear Red Day Feb. 3 - Heart health awareness for women


Heart disease is the No. 1 killer among women. It impacts mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts and friends. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four female deaths can be attributed to cardiovascular complications, including heart disease and strokes. But proper education, healthier lifestyles and awareness can help reduce these numbers. That’s why the Military Health System is joining National Wear Red Day® Friday, Feb. 3, when wearing a red article of clothing will draw attention to this issue and encourage women to ask: Am I heart healthy?

"It all starts with lifestyle,” says Army Col. Todd Villines, the cardiology consultant to the Army Surgeon General and a practicing cardiologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “To assess a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, we need to look at the factors that affect the heart and blood vessels.”

Villines said risk factors for both women and men can be divided into two major categories: modifiable and nonmodifiable. Some risk factors can be modified by changes patients make in the way they live their lives. These risk factors might also be improved with medications. Nonmodifiable risks include a family history of heart attack or stroke that could make someone more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease. Villines is quick to point out, however, that just because someone is at greater risk due to something uncontrollable such as genetics, it’s not a given that they will suffer from heart disease.

“I try to engage my patients early on,” said Villines. “That way, I’m able to quantify and help them quantify their risks and figure out the best way to treat those risks before they suffer from a heart attack or stroke.”

Modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease — heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure — include:

  • Blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels
  • Smoking
  • A diet with inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Excess body weight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Taken together, these risk factors account for around 80 percent of deaths from heart disease and stroke, or about 500,000 women per year in the United States. Getting these under control is key.

Villines said eating right and getting the proper amount of exercise can make all the difference. One of the biggest issues is the amount of saturated (unhealthy) fat in our food, which ends up in our bloodstream in the form of cholesterol. Major sources of saturated fat include red meats and cheeses. “Those foods raise your cholesterol level, which in turn clogs arteries with plaque and increases blood pressure. High blood pressure then puts the heart under more stress, making it vulnerable to heart failure and cardiac arrest,” he said.

The National Institutes of Health recommends at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise or 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Activities can be as simple as a brisk walk of at least 10 minutes. Villines said you don’t have to become a gym rat to get some benefit. “You don’t need a personal trainer. Just do something nearly every day of the week.”

Tobacco use does a lot of damage to the body, including to the heart, but the negative effects can be reversed by kicking the habit.

“Within 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your blood pressure drops,” said Air Force Col. Thomas Moore, a preventive medicine doctor and in charge of health promotions for the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “In a couple of weeks to a few months, your circulation is improving and lung function increases. Within 15 years after stopping, your risk of heart disease is back to normal. The damage is not irreversible.”

That’s why the Military Health System (MHS) offers many resources to help women—active duty, reserve component, retirees and family members—kick the habit. The website offers advice on how to take those first steps to crush out cigarettes, offers help finding a local tobacco cessation program, and even provides live support with expert coaches ready to chat.

To raise awareness about the issue of healthy hearts for women, the Military Health System will participate in the social media campaign to help spread the word. Take photos of yourself and your colleagues wearing red, and post on social media using the hashtags #GoRedWearRed, #WearRedDay and #MilitaryHealth.

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