Go Red for Women’s Heart Health

Don’t save that red dress for Valentine’s day. Flaunt that color today, National Wear Red Day to help raise awareness about women’s heart health as part of the National Heart Health initiative by the American Heart Association this month.

You may not realize it, but heart disease is not just a problem for men. Take a look at this graphic below, courtesy of the American Heart Association:

High cholesterol, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity are all contributors that increase your risk for heart health problems, in both men and women. But what makes women susceptible than men?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk factors for heart disease vary from men on these points:

  • Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
  • Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you’re having symptoms of depression.
  • Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
  • Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (small vessel heart disease).

Latinas are at an even greater risk for heart disease than their white counterparts. Higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and inactivity within the Latino community increase the likelihood of poor heart health and may lead to disease.

The American Heart Association shared these facts with me:

Facts You Didn’t Know About Latinas and Heart Disease

o   Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.

o   Only 1 in 3 Hispanic women are aware that heart disease is their No. 1 killer.

o   Only 3 in 10 Hispanic women say they have been informed that they are at a higher risk.

o   Only 1 in 4 Hispanic women is aware of treatment options.

o   Hispanic women are more likely to take preventive actions for their family when it comes to heart health.

It is absolutely crucial that you take your heart health seriously, now more than ever. Wearing red today is one way to raise awareness in your community, but how can you take a step towards reducing your risk of heart disease?

There are 6 major risk factors for heart disease that you can modify or control: Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes. Making healthier lifestyle choices will have loads of benefits for your health, especially for your heart.

Here are some tips to get you started towards good heart health:

Get moving! Remember, your heart is a muscle and the more you move your body, the stronger your heart will get over time. People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower risk of developing heart disease than do sedentary people. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderately-intense exercise at least 5 days a week. Take a dance class. Go for a hike. Join your friends on a bike ride. Make it fun to keep yourself motivated and consistent.

– Heart-healthy eats. Key words to keep in mind: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low cholesterol and low fat foods.

  • Balance your diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to benefit from the vitamins and minerals that contribute to good heart health. Stick to whole fresh produce as much as possible and be sure to avoid fruits or vegetables that are canned with high sodium or high sugar syrups.
  • Recent studies show that 39% of people ages 18 and under, and 42% of adults don’t eat whole grains at all . Eating foods high in dietary fiber, such as whole grain products, may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and will also help maintain your weight. Skip the bagels and breakfast pastries for breakfast and try oatmeal or whole wheat bread instead.
  • Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol are almost guaranteed to raise your blood cholesterol and your risk for coronary artery disease and heart attack. Your body needs fat, in addition to carbs and protein, for energy so don’t skip it altogether. Choose heart-healthy fats (aka MUFAs or monounsaturated fats if you want to get technical) such as extra-virgin olive oil or nuts. Be sure to keep this in moderation folks.

Kick the smoking habit. According to the AHA, cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by increasing blood pressure, making it harder for you to tolerate regular exercise, and making it more likely for blood to clot. Smoking also decreases the levels of HDL (high density lipoprotein) in your blood, otherwise known as the “good” cholesterol that may lower your risk for heart disease. There are many many good reasons to quit smoking, but the impact it has on heart health tops the list.

Wear red and talk to your friends, your neighbors, mothers and daughters, coworkers and social network: spread the word about the importance of heart health, not just today, but everyday. Set the example and pay it forward.

Here I am, showing off my red. Even my cell phone gets in on the action.


Are you wearing red today?

How are you celebrating Heart Health month? 

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! 🙂

Featured post

Why We Overeat

David Kessler, like Michael Pollan before him, blew my mind.

When I read Kessler’s, The End of Overeating, several years ago, I knew right then and there that exploring our relationship with food on both a personal and societal level would be an integral part of my journey.


In our efforts to try and tackle the issue of obesity, we tend to point fingers in every direction: processed foods, soda, high fructose corn syrup, not enough exercise, refined carbs,..and the list goes on and on.

Kessler challenged all of my thoughts and biases about the food industry and how we eat with his novel. He forced me to consider the way our bodies respond to food on a biological level and how companies tap into that science to create products that keep us eating.

Basically, Kessler dropped some knowledge. Scientific knowledge at that.

I strive for balance in everything I do, and the same goes for my analysis of our societal response to food. Just how much is out of our control when it comes down to it? Can we really ignore the way food is manufactured and distributed in our quest to find the answer to curbing obesity? Does a national recommended eating plan such as MyPlate really address our needs when many of the large food companies have lobbyists pushing their agenda into our national food policies?

These are huge questions with complicated answers. I spent a lot of time thinking about them from a subjective point of view; the big-L Liberal, ivy-league educated, East Coaster with strong views about what is and isn’t right with our food politics. It’s easy to point fingers at one cause or another. But what does all of that really mean if I can’t look at these issues from both sides? How can I consider nutrition without considering the science?

Discovering Kessler’s work was a turning point for me. So it brought me great pleasure to see him at this recent webinar hosted by Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

Let Kessler drop some knowledge on you and explore your thoughts and feelings about what he’s saying. Do you agree or disagree? Why do you think we overeat? What would you change about your eating habits or would you change anything at all?

I’m always curious to hear what you have to say! Please feel free to share in the comments below or email me anytime at food4thoughtnyc@gmail.com.

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! 🙂

“I’m a Girl” and the New Initiative to Boost Body Image Diversity

Photo courtesy of nyc.gov

When I first heard about Bloomberg’s latest public health campaign to help boost the self-esteem of girls bombarded with images of unfair beauty standards, I was both surprised and curious.

Despite Bloomberg’s polarizing stance on the soda ban and many other proposed plans to change the quality of life for New Yorkers, I am continually impressed with the diverse ways the mayor’s office is challenging many of the social norms that have repeatedly been harmful to both our emotional and physical well-being.

This makes my opinion pretty unpopular around the dinner table when politics comes up in discussions.

But I won’t apologize for being openly proud of the way our city government has made the attempt (albeit, not always successfully), to put messages out there that challenge the status quo.

In the “I’m a Girl; I’m Beautiful the Way I Am” campaign, various ads feature images of young girls from diverse backgrounds celebrating being exactly that; unique girls of different shapes and sizes who can be “creative, leaders, sporty, adventurous, smart and strong.”

In a recent NYTimes article analyzing the initiative, the goals of this campaign coupled with a program offering physical fitness classes to young girls are discussed;

Mainly through bus and subway ads, the campaign aims to reach girls from about 7 to 12 years old, who are at risk of negative body images that can lead to eating disorders, drinking, acting out sexually, suicide and bullying. But unlike Mr. Bloomberg’s ads to combat teenage pregnancy, smoking and soda-drinking, which are often ugly, revolting or sad, these ads are uniformly upbeat and positive.

There have been similar programs initiated by various organizations over the years that work with young women to transform their ideas about beauty standards in our society, however, New York City officials claim that this is the first attempt made by a major city to have the conversation on such a large platform.

It’s early yet and it’s difficult to measure the success of these advertisements in changing often difficult opinions about body image and beauty that are often engrained early on through environmental cues. Early testing, however, shows the response to these ads has been positive.

In a recent interview with Lean In, “I’m a Girl” campaign creator, Samantha Levine shared some of the reactions from focus groups:

We did focus groups with two groups of seven to nine-year-olds and two groups of 10-12-year-olds to see what would resonate. They loved it. Some girls said, “Wow, that makes me think that it’s okay to be dirty, not dress up all of the time, not wear makeup and go have fun and still be considered beautiful and still be confident in who I am.” That was really rewarding to see that it was resonating the way we wanted it to.

Unlike obesity or diabetes, body image dysmorphia and eating disorders are often undiagnosed or remain unreported, making a large-scale plan to change the trend difficult to coordinate, let alone implement.

How many of you have made a disparaging remark about your body or about other women’s bodies? How often do you compare yourselves to images you see around you? How many times has this played a role in your diet and how you approach food?

Whether we realize it or not, we often make associations between our bodies and our self-worth which can lead us down a dangerous path. I’ve been down that road myself and it’s something I continue to struggle with as an adult.

Another campaign targeting Latina women also recently launched under the name Girl Body Pride, by Latina magazine columnist, Pauline Campos. Her website provides an open forum where women can share their stories about body image, eating disorders, mental illness, and raising daughters with a healthier outlook about their bodies and appearance.

Girl Body Pride empowers women
Photo courtesy of Girl Body Pride

The significance of these new initiatives will have the greatest impact on minority communities that often overlook eating disorders and body image issues as being a ‘white girl’ problem, a bias that I’ve experienced firsthand and left me feeling confused for a long time.

I can’t help but wonder what my adolescence would have been like if these programs were available. I was lucky to have resources in college to help guide me through some of my more difficult years while also giving me an outlet to share that with others. And I can’t give enough credit to this blog for providing me with a space to continue working on my relationship with food and self-image.

My stance has always been to emphasize the importance of dialogue and balance. The efforts made by NYC officials to encourage positive body image on a city-wide level sends out the message that this is an issue affecting everyone, not just certain parts of the population.

Regardless of how effective these ads are at curbing eating disorders or promoting physical activity amongst younger girls, I believe that it’s a powerful statement to those who see these images each day. At the very least, it’s an alternative to the overwhelming deluge of images on our phones, tablets, and magazines that continually perpetuate unattainable beauty ideals.

What are your thoughts about the “I’m a Girl” campaign? Would you want to see this in your city or country?

Do you think women continue to spend too much time thinking about their appearance?

What do you think is the best way to boost body image for younger girls?

Please share your comments and/or stories below. I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Remember to keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! 🙂

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