People wearing red today can take heart in knowing they're part of a national effort to draw attention to cardiovascular disease in women.
Today marks Go Red for Women, an annual campaign through the American Heart Association. The red attire worn en masse could spark discussion about heart disease.
The disease kills more women than all other cancers combined and is the leading cause of death in men. One out of every four people in the U.S. dies from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
February is American Heart Month, and groups dedicated to health are stressing the importance of recognizing and addressing risk factors.
Nine out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium. On average, they eat more than 3,400 milligrams a day, which is more than double the American Heart Associations recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams, according to the association.
Small changes can have a big impact on lowering the risk.
A half-hour of aerobic exercise three days a week and consuming less sodium are simple yet helpful steps, said Christy Cleveland, a cardiac nurse with Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond.
Cleveland, who also works as a wellness nurse at Omni Health & Fitness in Schererville, discusses risk factors with patients.
She can tell when someone understands how everything from heart disease to diabetes to cholesterol and blood pressure is connected, and how they are affected by diet and exercise.
"When you go through the risk factors for someone, it's very interesting," she said. "You have to be aware of how many people have heart disease, have stents, have open heart surgery. We have a large population in America who are very overweight."
After assessing a person's risk, the next step is to make a plan and set goals. Regular aerobic exercise helps control blood pressure and cholesterol and addresses obesity.
"It takes care of our sedentary lifestyle risk," she said. "It helps take care of the Type 2 diabetes risk."
Even shedding 5 to 10 pounds can improve a person's health. Exercise is just as important as taking heart medicine, she said.
"You have to make it a priority and squeeze it in somehow," she said.
The minimum is 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week. People who want to lose weight should increase it to four or five days a week and add in simple weight training, Cleveland said.
Diet changes can mean adding protein and fiber during the day to stay full while cutting back on sugar and carbohydrates, which are converted into sugar quickly.
Eggs are a good source of protein, but Cleveland suggests eating no more than three yolks a week.
"You don't have to starve yourself," she said. "If you have good fruits and vegetables throughout the day and are getting some type of protein and increase the fiber, you're going to feel full. If most of us would eat like a diabetic eats, we'd all be a lot healthier," she said.
The American Heart Association this year celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Go Red for Women campaign, an initiative to encourage women to learn their cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, to stop smoking, to lose weight, to exercise and to eat healthy.
Friday is Wear Red Day, when people across the nation are asked to wear red in support of heart disease awareness. And, the association hosts Go Red for Women breakfasts in Porter and LaPorte counties to help spread the word.