LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates Smart Behavior

90 Years of Heart Tools

Unless you've been under a rock you are probably aware of the prestigious, well known American Heart Association (AHA). It wasn't called AHA at first. It was 1915 when a pioneering group of physicians and social workers, concerned about the lack of heart disease information, formed the Association for the Prevention and Relief of Heart Disease. At that time, a patient who survived a heart attack was, typically, doomed to a life a mostly bed rest.

However, as doctors gathered to share information about their experience treating heart disease, they decided to conduct studies about whether heart disease patients could safely return to work. By 1924, six doctors, recognizing the need for a national organization that could overcome their "almost unbelievable ignorance" about heart disease, founded the American Heart Association in an attempt to enlist as many physicians and scientists to learn more about the disease. Dr. Paul Dudley White, later best known for treating President Eisenhower after a heart attack (with exercise), was the organization's first president.

Interest in the organization grew quickly. By 1948 the AHA made its public debut via a fund raising network radio contest, the "Walking Man," that was introduced on the famous "Truth or Consequences" program hosted by Ralph Edwards. Donations poured in as contestants attempted to guess the identity of the "Walking Man" who was later revealed to be Jack Benny.

The publicity from that contest was leveraged. Volunteers were instrumental in organizing AHA divisions across the United States. In February, 1949, the first national fund-raising campaign was launched. My father, a physician who specialized in diseases of the heart and lungs was active in the organization. It seemed a no brainer that my mother, his nurse, would be the first chairperson of the Western North Carolina division fund-raiser. My introduction to affairs of the heart was launched when mother received boxes filled with thousands of plastic heart stick pins that were to be given to people who donated to the organization.

I spent fascinating hours playing with those stickpins. I remember running my hands through the boxes, creating puzzles, decorating anything that didn't move and, because I attempted to secure them with decorated ribbons to a few animals that did move, my presence soon set pets scattering.

My dad became well known in our part of the country when he adopted Dr. White's approach for the treatment of heart disease: get the patient up and moving soon after she or he was stabilized. Activity, my father taught, was the key to good health. This message was not lost on me so it was no surprise, when my career as a pharmacist evolved into a health promotion business with an annual focus on organizing fitness professionals to raise funds for the American Heart Association. I quickly learned that most the research was being done on heart disease in men. That’s why, in 2003 I joined an AHA project to overcome the oversimplified, distorted view of heart disease and risk in women. The Go Red for Women Red Dress campaign was launched and the tide turned. All revenues from the campaign are used to support awareness, research, education and community programs to benefit WOMEN.

In late January, CIRCULATION, the prestigious AHA medical journal, will publish the 2014 statistical review of heart disease and stroke. ( You may have heard these or similar statistics before, :but they bear repeating

  • coronary heart (vascular) disease (CVD) is the cause of one of every six deaths in North America.
  • approximately every 34 second one American has a coronary event and every one minute and 23 seconds it kills one of us.
  • every 40 minutes someone in the U.S. has a stroke, and someone dies of one approximately every 4 minutes.
  • if you smoke your risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) is high.
  • if you exercise 30 minutes a day/5 days a week, your risk for CVD is lowered-even if you have high levels of cholesterol.
  • if you are overweight, exercise can lower your CVD risk and contribute to loss of stored body fat when it gets mobilized to fuel muscles
  • a lower in fat, lower in added sugar, higher in fiber diet significantly lowers CVD risk

That's why I want all LW News readers to make it a priority to visit the American Heart Association web site ( this month. There is so much useful and easy to understand information about YOUR health on the site. Count on a lot of "aha's." Women, and the men who love them, can also visit the Go Red For Women site ( Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the "GET PIN" icon to receive (and please wear) a FREE red enamel Go Red For Women Red Dress pin. (I have many of these and until my bag is empty I will be distributing them in early February. If you see me, ask for one.)

Grab your back issue of Leisure World News for the latest information on statins-the number one pharmaceutical product to treat high cholesterol. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for a blood thinning (to prevent clotting) daily aspirin. (Many of us are NOT so the random use without a doctor's advice is crazy.)

I also strongly urge residents to attend the Leisure World Oasis Health Center sponsored resident CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation class. The two-hour session (yes, there is a $25 fee) is geared to teach a variety of rescuers to respond appropriately to a cardiovascular emergency. Additionally you will be introduced to the process of using a life-saving AED (automated external defibrillator). This portable electronic device is easy to use. It automatically checks if there is a heart rhythm in a person suspected of having cardiac arrest. If necessary, it can send a shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. Although anyone can open and use one in an emergency, having the in class experience will give you more confidence. There are five AEDs in Leisure World: the health office, fitness center, security truck, tennis courts and Rec 2 lobby. Do not miss the opportunity to learn these two valuable skills.

So, from heart stick pins to the development of drugs that manage cardiovascular diseases to the availability of life saving AEDs, the ability to take care of our king of muscles-our heart-has come a long way. Take advantage of all the resources to continue to live well and live long.

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LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates
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