How the Color You Wear May Save Lives

By Tracy Morris

pic1Patrice Desvigne-Nickens, M.D., leader of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Cardiovascular Medicine Scientific Research Group, talks about The Heart Truth campaign:

TM: What’s the history of National Wear Red Day? Whose idea was it?

Patrice Desvigne-Nickens: National Wear Red Day is an annual event held on the first Friday in February. On this day, people across the country will wear red to unite in the national movement to give women a personal and urgent wake-up call about their risk of heart disease.  Everyone can participate by showing off a favorite red dress, shirt, or tie, or by wearing the Red Dress Pin. By participating in National Wear Red Day, Americans join The Heart Truth, a national awareness campaign to alert women about their risk for heart disease and motivate them to take steps to lower their risk.

The idea for this national observance was born at a meeting of Heart Truth partners early in the campaign and since then, primary sponsor NHLBI — the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — has been working with the many friends and partners of The Heart Truth to implement and promote the annual National Wear Red Day.

The centerpiece of the campaign is the Red Dress — the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness. What’s a Red Dress got to do with it? A simple Red Dress works as a visual red alert to get the message heard loud and clear: “Heart Disease Doesn’t Care What You Wear — It’s the #1 Killer of Women.” The campaign is reaching women with important heart health messages in community settings through a diverse network of national and grassroots partner organizations.

TM: We know that women of all ages need to be concerned about heart health. What can women in different age groups focus on — for example, in addition to preventive lifestyle measures, are there tests to be run, or are there symptoms that they need to be aware of?

Patrice Desvigne-Nickens: The Heart Truth campaign warns women about heart disease and provides tools to help them take action against its risk factors. It is primarily targeted to women ages 40 to 60, the time when a woman’s risk of heart disease begins to increase.

However, it’s never too early—or too late—to take action to prevent and control risk factors since heart disease develops over time and can start at a young age—even in the teen years. The earlier you embrace heart healthy living, the better your chances of minimizing heart disease risk and preventing disease. 

Heart disease is a lifelong condition—once you get it, you’ll always have it. And the condition of your blood vessels will steadily worsen unless you make changes in your daily habits. That’s why it’s so important to start now.

The good news is that whatever your age or current state of health, it’s never too early—or too late—to take steps to protect your heart. Taking action to prevent and control the risk factors can greatly reduce one’s risk of developing heart disease.

To have a healthy heart, it is critical that women know the risk factors for heart disease—that is, the conditions or behaviors that increase the chance of getting heart disease.  They are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Age (55 or older for women)

Women of all ages need to get serious about taking action to reduce their risk.  Only 13 percent of women consider heart disease to be their own greatest health risk. Yet an astonishing 80 percent of midlife women have one or more risk factors for heart disease. The good news is that heart disease really is preventable. In fact, by leading a healthy lifestyle, Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent.

Quick Tips

  • Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. Women who smoke are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than non-smoking women. Smoking also boosts the risk of stroke and cancer.

  • Aim for a healthy weight. It’s important for a long, vigorous life. Overweight and obesity cause many preventable deaths.

  • Get moving. Make a commitment to be more physically active. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.

  • Eat for heart health. Choose a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and moderate in total fat.

  • Know your numbers. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, triglycerides), blood glucose, body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement. Work with your doctor to improve any numbers that are not normal.

TM: What kind of events are in store for the 2008 The Heart Truth campaign?

Patrice Desvigne-Nickens: The Heart Truth will celebrate National Wear Red Day on Friday, February 1 with the Red Dress Collection Fashion Show at New York’s Fashion Week featuring one-of-a-kind red dresses made by top fashion designers and worn by celebrities on the runway to show their support of the campaign and its Red Dress, the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness.

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