For women, the threat from various forms of cancer—and in the past year, COVID-19—has been real and deadly. But the top killer of women in the United States is heart disease. That makes those of the American Heart Association see red—figuratively and literally.
American Heart Month takes place every February, creating a call to action to address heart disease, the number-one killer of Americans in general and women in particular. The first Friday in February is also dedicated to Wear Red Day, in which women—men are encouraged to do so, too—wear red to facilitate conversations about heart health. Here in Toledo, women’s health is celebrated through AHA’s Go Red for Women Campaign.
“Go Red for Women is an annual campaign that we host in Toledo and throughout the country in an effort to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke among women,” says Elizabeth Lewis, director of social events for the American Heart Association of Northwest Ohio. “More women than men are affected by heart disease,” Lewis continues. “People think heart disease is a man’s disease. It’s not.”
The goal of Go Red for Women, now in its
18th year, is to empower women to take charge
of their health.
“As women, we often are caregivers,” Lewis says. “We take care of our children and sometimes our parents and husbands. Many work full time. Sometimes women forget to take care of themselves. Women can take better care of themselves by putting themselves first.”
She lists heart-healthy tips each woman can do:
- Get at least 150 minutes per week (30 minutes a day, five days a week) of moderately intense aerobic activity.
- Incorporate colorful fruits and vegetables into their diet and avoid foods and beverages with added sugar and products high in sodium.
- Keep a food journal, even if for one or two days, to become aware of what the journal-taker is eating.
- Reduce stress by practicing mindful meditation and going on a walk to clear the mind. Break down big problems into smaller parts to take things one step at a time. Take a break to listen to music or an inspirational podcast.
Another aspect that Go Red for Women calls attention to is that women are under-represented when it comes to cardiovascular research, Lewis says. Fewer than 40 percent of those who are part of such research are women, and fewer of that percentage are women of color.
Attendees will hear from the local 2021 Go Red for Women chair, Lori Johnston, president of Paramount Insurance. “It is my privilege to serve as this year’s chair,” she says. “In my role as a female executive in the healthcare field and as an individual with heart disease in my family, I know firsthand just how important this work is.”
The keynote speaker will be Diana Patton, a local social justice advocate and inspirational speaker. Lewis says Patton will emphasize that women should take care of themselves, more so this year because of the stress brought on by the pandemic.
Prior to the speakers, there will be an interactive virtual expo hall, where attendees can hear from survivors, talk to sponsors, and get heart-healthy recipes from vendors—just as they would have at in-person luncheons. “Hopefully, people will feel a little more like they’re there in person,” Lewis says.
Lewis says women are encouraged to wear any manner of red clothing on the day of the virtual luncheon. Men are encouraged to wear red in support of their mother, spouse, sister, or any other woman important in their lives.
The period covered by this month’s celebration coincides with the pandemic, which made for a trying time for the Heart Association. “During the pandemic, we relied heavily on our volunteers to speak on our behalf,” Lewis says. “The biggest impact was that we couldn’t meet in person and have information sessions, but we managed to meet virtually and have our community conversations with medical experts.”
Going forward in 2021, the Heart Association will continue its virtual, digital efforts through the continued rounds of vaccinations until eventually restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.
As for this month’s Go Red for Women event, Lewis says, “Women tend to put themselves last. This will be a wakeup call for them.”
She adds, “We have seen an increase in research and awareness of heart disease among women, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Dennis Bova is a freelance writer and editor. ❦