Go Red. No, I’m not talking about that school to the north or south of our great state, but about heart disease. February is National Heart Month. In 2003, the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and other organizations committed to women’s health joined together to raise awareness of women and heart disease. The Go Red for Women campaign was developed in 2004 to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease in women, which claims the lives of 500,000 women each year. Yet many women don’t pay attention to this affliction and even dismiss it as an older man’s disease.

Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 3 killers of American women older than 25. One in 29 women dies of breast cancer. About one in 2.4 women die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. One in five women has some form of cardiovascular disease and 63 percent of women who die unexpectedly of heart disease have no previous symptoms.

The Go Red for Women campaign has a few basic health messages:

1) Know your risk factors for heart disease and stroke. These factors include:

• High blood pressure;

• High blood cholesterol;

• Diabetes;

• Smoking;

• Being overweight;

• Being physically inactive;

• Having a family history or early heart disease; and

• Being 55 years old or older.

2) Reduce your risk. Do this with the following tactics:

• Maintain a desirable weight.

• Keep your body mass index (BMI) below 25 and waistline less than 35 inches.

• Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week.

• Don’t smoke; if you do, stop.

• Eat a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, legumes, nuts, fish, poultry and lean meat.

• Maintain a total cholesterol level lower than 200 and an HDL (high-density lipoproteins) of 50 or higher.

• Control your blood pressure. Try to keep it below 120/80.

• Schedule regular visits with your doctor.

3) Know the warning signs of heart attack and call 911 immediately if you experience:

• Discomfort in the center of the chests that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

• Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body” one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

• Shortness of breath; with or without chest discomfort

• Other signs, such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness 

While blood pressure might increase temporarily when you’re faced with a high-stress situation, stress is not known to cause chronic high blood pressure. Nevertheless, stress definitely affects our bodies. Because of demanding jobs, long hours, technological distractions and little sleep, the stress women feel is commonly chronic stress, which keeps our bodies in high gear for days or weeks at a time.

We know that stress can affect us in a variety of ways, and the ways in which we choose to cope with stress — like overeating or eating sugary or fatty foods, smoking cigarettes, drinking and other unhealthy activities — definitely can raise our risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure.

So, find ways to reduce stress in your life. Shorten your to-do list. Learn to say “no.” Know your stress triggers. Relax. Take a walk. Read a book. 

Whatever you do, live heart healthy.

Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information or questions about food safety, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email rmcfarla@ksu.edu