Time to take charge of heart health

Posted: Wednesday, February 02, 2005

In recognition that February is American Heart Month, I'm calling on all women to take charge of their health and fight heart disease before it's too late.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the most dangerous threat to a woman's health. No other killer takes more lives, disables more people and ruins more careers in our state. This year alone several hundred of Alaska's mothers, daughters, sisters and wives will die from cardiovascular disease. Hundreds more will live with the debilitating effects of heart disease and stroke. And yet the American Heart Association found that less than one-fifth of women consider cardiovascular disease their greatest health risk.

It's time for us women to start taking care of ourselves and to "go red" by making our own health a priority.

What does it mean to "go red for women"?

It means you should wear red on Feb. 4, which is National Wear Red Day. You may be aware that heart disease is the number one killer of women, but too many women are still surprised by this fact. Put on a red dress, hat or sweater and tell other women the startling truth about heart disease. Men, too, can show support for the women in their lives by wearing a red tie or a red shirt.

More important, "going red" means looking at your own personal risk for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise and being overweight. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and take personal control over them. Make a commitment to heart health, the same way you're adamant about fighting off cancer. If you get a mammogram regularly, give the same importance to knowing your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. Start knowing your numbers while you're young and your risk is low. Mothers, set healthy examples for your families and feel good about the fact that a healthier lifestyle puts everyone in your family on track to living healthier, longer lives.

Finally, we must encourage our legislators to stay committed to improving the health of all Alaskans. Tobacco smoke and obesity are the two most preventable causes of cardiovascular disease for both men and women. The Alaska Legislature wisely supported the governor and increased our state cigarette tax during last year's special session. It must now follow through to ensure that a percentage of the new tax revenue goes to tobacco prevention, education and cessation programs to help Alaskans who want to quit and to prevent children from picking up the deadly habit.

Although we've made important strides in working to reduce tobacco use in Alaska, we unfortunately have a long way to go to reduce Alaska's growing obesity problem. Did you know that Alaska has one of the highest obesity rates west of the Rockies, and that more than half of Alaska children are either overweight or obese? Learning to lead an active lifestyle is best taught at an early age. I hope you will join with me in supporting the American Heart Association's goal that all schoolchildren, grades K-12, should participate in daily, quality physical education - a goal that is far from a reality in most of our schools. Daily, quality physical education helps combat childhood obesity and sets positive patterns for life. And it's never too late to start keeping in shape. By next year, I hope you will see "less" of me.

We can all do a lot to help reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease on women, men and children in Alaska. So this February, make it a point to "go red" and stay healthy for life!

• Nancy Murkowski is honorary chairwoman of the 2005 Go Red for Women Luncheon today in Anchorage. For more information on women's heart health, visit americanheart.org or call 1-888-MY-HEART.

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