Every October, we think pink.

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For 31 days (or more), we stand up to cancer. We have telethons. We have fundraisers. We see pink products on every shelf in every store and pink tape covers football players uniforms and cleats. We have scarves and walkathons and pins and more. In the CrossFit world, we hold Barbells for Boobs. Breast Cancer Awareness. It’s an extremely important cause and the attention brought to it during these few weeks each year is invaluable. We come together to fight.

However, the number one killer, number one, only gets one week in February. For women specifically, one day. It gets one ‘National Day’ that most people don’t even know about. What is this silent killer I speak of?

Heart disease.

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That’s right. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. More than ALL ‘womens’ cancers.

For the next several months, I will be putting up some info for you on heart health. Not only do we lack a focus on women’s heart health, but the nutritional information we are given about how to keep our tickers healthy leaves much to be desired. Low fat, low calorie, high in refined grain and industrial seed oils. It’s CLEARLY not working.  Unfortunately not only are we seemingly in the dark about the insane prevalence of heart disease in American women, we’re also grossly misinformed about the nutritional routes to take in order to protect our hearts. Heart-healthy diets promoted, even by those with the best of intentions, are often very wrong and not up to date with current science. 

In November 2006, heart disease came into my life with a fury. My mother was a healthy person by all accounts. She ate the low fat, whole grain based diet that her doctor suggested. She spent an hour on the elliptical most days. Sure, she had been feeling a little tired lately but what working woman isn’t?  We would later find out that this ‘normal fatigue’ was the sign we missed. On Nov 17, she went to bed, and my family changed forever. Dilated Cardiomyopathy resulted in sudden cardiac arrest and my fascination with women’s heart health began. In looking into the thing that silently and suddenly killed my mom, I found that not only was this something that was playing a role in my life, but played a role in the lives of millions. Why had I never heard this before? Why had no one told me about it? How is it possible that we were never told that it was heart disease that was going to be our most likely battle? How could we be left so in the dark? 

Heart disease kills more women than anything else every year: 8.6 million worldwide to be exact.

Almost 300,000 women in the US die each year from heart attack (267,000+) or heart failure (32,000+).
Just to put it into context: That’s SIX TIMES the number taken by breast cancer.

Heart attack and disease is often thought of as a men’s health issue. The facts, though, tell a different story:

– Almost 32,000 women die from congestive heart failure each year. This accounts for over 60% of heart failure deaths.

– 8 million women in the US are currently living with heart disease.

– Under age 50, heart attacks are twice as likely to result in death in women than in men.

– 43% of women who suffer a heart attack will die within one year, compared to 24% of men.

Why don’t we pay attention?  How did we miss this?

Every year I think to myself, how I want to do something to bring more attention to this. We see streets, stores, NFL Teams, all turn pink for a month every year…yet heart disease gets maybe a few people wearing red one random day in February. It doesn’t add up. When I tell people that it’s heart disease that causes the most death – they’re shocked. Nobody seems to know about this. It needs to change. We need to stand up and fight for our hearts.  I want to do everything in my power to make sure that heart disease does not enter my life. That I do what is necessary to keep my heart healthy.  Learning about what foods I can eat to support it, exercising in a way that strengthens it, educating myself…it’s all great for me…but I want to, need to, spread the word.

One of the most frustrating things about the high level of heart disease in the US is that much of it is largely preventable through lifestyle changes. The basic things we all know about: regular exercise and a diet rich in nutrients (yes, including healthy fats from both plants AND animals). There’s also stress management and knowing your family history so that you can actually talk with your practitioner or physician about what you, personally, can do for your heart health. Years after my mom died, I found out that 50% of all Dilated Cardiomyopathy is hereditary (it can also be caused by a virus). It was brought to our attention after my youngest sister was asked when her last echocardiogram was, and the fact that she said, ‘I’ve never had one’, shocked her new doctor, that my sisters and I all went to get them. In the end, we’re all good, but it was an important part of knowing our heart health that was being left out due to our family physicians oversight.

Know your history.

Talk with your doctor.

Get your heart pumping regularly.

Eat real food.

Stay healthy and keep your heart strong.

#GoRedForWomen

 

*Numbers via WomensHeart.org, TheHeartFoundation.org, and World-Heart-Federation.org.