Health & Fitness

By Ann John

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Sure, women love couture. So what better way to get a women’s attention than through creations from some high-end designer names? And that is exactly what the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has successfully realized. Joining forces with top designers, the organization began the Heart Truth Project in 2001 in an effort to highlight the pressing issue of heart disease in women. Too often, we are unaware of the risks associated with the disease, which is the leading cause of death in females. Cardiovascular disease kills one in three women, and this staggering statistic is greater than the number of cancer related deaths in women combined.

Following the recommendations of more than 70 experts, the Heart Truth project was designed to help women take this issue more seriously, primarily by modifying their lifestyles and controlling several risk factors. While family history is immutable, women can prevent heart disease through regular exercise and a diet that reduces the intake of fat and bad cholesterol, also known as LDL. Minimizing the amount of LDL can significantly curb the risk of heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol lowering medications such as Lipitor and Zocor are other options for women who have a hard time controlling their cholesterol. Other risk factors that women should control include high blood pressure and smoking.

The project is targeted especially towards women in their 40s to 60s, but early detection and prevention is a hallmark of the initiative as well. Since heart disease can start as young as the teenage years, it’s never too early for a woman to take better care of her body.

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The centerpiece of this campaign is the Red Dress Project, an easily identifiable icon that reminds and motivates women to take steps against heart disease. It serves as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness. Launched in 2002, the project involved a partnership between New York Fashion Week and the NHLBI, and in 2003, included a collection of red dresses from some top designers including Carolina Herrera, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, and Diane Von Furstenberg, among others.

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Following its successful debut, the project has been steadily gaining visibility. This past year marked the third annual collection of Red Dresses, and gracing the runway in these one of a kind designs were female musicians and celebrities from the likes of Debbie Harry to Lindsay Lohan, driving home the message yet again that heart disease doesn’t have an age bracket.

February is now known as Heart Health month, and the first Friday of the month is National Wear Red Day. Women and men are encouraged to participate in raising awareness by wearing a favorite item of clothing in their choice shade of red. There’s also a cool Red Dress Pin you can wear, which is available from the NHLBI.

So this month when you notice Valentine’s Day candy and cards in abundance at your local Duane Reade, remember that the emotional part of your heart isn’t the only part that needs attention. Work towards eating heart healthy foods and by consistent cardio workouts. And don’t forget to wear red on February 2nd to remind yourself that your heart needs some lovin’ too!

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Originally published February 2007
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