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Go red! Go red?

Lori Schloeder Gress

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. For more than ten years, the American Heart Association has sponsored National Wear Red Day to raise awareness in the fight against heart disease in women.

And for those ten plus years I have joined a growing number of women and men to support the American Heart Association by wearing red to raise awareness and donated to the American Heart Association to help fund medical research, awareness, education and community programs to help women live longer heart-healthy lives.

My father had his first heart attack at age 53. He passed away at the age of 68 from a massive heart attack fourteen years ago. His life ended much too soon. I have always felt that the cause I would champion would be for my dad — and that would also mean it was for myself and my children as well. So, each year — I provide many others with the little red dress pin which is the iconic symbol for our battle against heart disease in women. I send out reminders to friends to wear red on the date, I post it on my facebook and anything else I can do to raise awareness that heart disease affects one in three women.

Why red?

Ask any stylist, job coach or dating expert and they'll tell you that red stands out. Eyes are immediately drawn to it. Some even say that the color red is a confidence booster and makes you feel powerful. Maybe that's why the AHA (American Heart Association) chose the color red to signify our fight against the number one killer in women. Maybe it's just a coincidence that it's also the color of our hearts.

In 2003, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute took action against a disease that was claiming the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year — a disease that women weren't paying attention to. A disease they truly believed, and many still believe to this day, affects more men than women.

Stemming from that action, National Wear Red Day was born. It's held on the first Friday in February every year to raise awareness about heart disease being the No. 1 killer of women. This coming National Wear Red Day, Feb. 7 marks the eleventh anniversary.

A Decade of Success

Since the first National Wear Red Day in 2003, tremendous strides have been made in the fight against heart disease in women. Through research and education to healthy lifestyle changes, we've made progress in the following:

• 34 percent fewer women now die from heart disease, saving 330 lives every day.

• More women are taking ownership of their health by developing healthy lifestyles:

• 37 percent are losing weight

• 43 percent are checking their cholesterol

• More than 50 percent exercise more

• 60 percent have improved their diets

• 33 percent have developed heart health plans with their doctor.

• Awareness is up. Twenty-three percent more Americans now realize heart disease is the number one killer of women.

• Awareness among minorities is up, doubling among Hispanic women and tripling among African American women.

• 15 percent have quit smoking, and high cholesterol has declined by 18 percent.

• More communities have joined the fight. Registration in Go Red For Women is now more than 1.75 million. More than 25 million Red Dress Pins have been worn to support the cause. More than 185 cities host GRFW events and luncheons. And more than 2,000 landmarks light up in red on National Wear Red Day.

• Legislative efforts are making a difference. Women no longer pay higher premiums than men for health coverage. And 20 states have programs for low-income women to get screenings for heart disease and strokes through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's WISEWOMAN.

• More gender-specific guidelines have been developed, because women's symptoms and responses to medication differ from men's.

• Gender-specific medical research is up. The FDA now requires clinical trial results be reported by gender.

• Gender-specific inequalities have been identified, ensuring women receive the same level of heart treatment as men.

Factors That Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease

While you can't change things like age and family history, the good news is that even modest changes to your diet and lifestyle can improve your heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80 percent. The following factors can increase your risk for heart disease:

• Cholesterol

• High blood pressure

• Smoking

• Diabetes

• Weight

• Physical Inactivity

When it comes to preventing and treating heart disease, it's all about early detection. The sooner you know and understand your risk for the number one killer in women, the sooner you can take preventative steps to keep it from entering your life, and stomping it out altogether.

Getting regular checkups and learning all of the factors that put you at risk can be lifesaving. Knowledge is power, and once you've got it, you can start making positive changes to your lifestyle. Factors like age, gender, and family history are obviously beyond anyone's control, but there's still a lot you can do to minimize your risk. The American Heart Association website offers lots more advice, heart healthy recipes, and so much more.

But despite the progress over the past ten plus years, women are still dying. They're still unaware of their risks and the facts. And now's not the time for complacency. It's time to stand stronger, speak louder and join in the fight this National Wear Red Day.

Help me to bring awareness to heart disease in women by participating in National Wear Red Day with Go Red For Women on Friday, Feb. 7 to help fight heart disease. Go red!