Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined. But the good news is that 80% of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented.
In order to educate and raise money for the cause, more than 1,200 women and men attended the American Heart Association’s 14th annual Go Red for Women luncheon in Rogers on Tuesday, (Feb. 27). Go Red For Women is the American Heart Association’s national movement to end heart disease and stroke in women and advocates more research and swifter action for women’s heart health.
Actress and author Marilu Henner delivered the keynote speech at the luncheon. Henner, known for her television roles in Taxi, Evening Shade and Dancing With the Stars, shared her story of the death of her parents in their 50s and her journey to become an advocate for heart health.
Her father dropped dead of a heart attack at a Christmas gathering at age 52, when Henner was 17 years old. Shortly after, Henner’s mother developed rheumatoid arthritis and she died at age 58 from complications from the disease. As a result of her mother’s death, Henner had an epiphany and decided that she would learn everything she could about the human body in order to understand the genetics she and her siblings had been given, so she could save her own life and those of her brothers and sisters.
Henner is one of only 12 people documented with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HASAM), which makes it possible for her to read information and cross connect everything she reads. So, she became a student of health, spending years reading books, studying and implementing changes in her own health habits. As a result, she has spoken before Congress on seven occasions on various health issues.
Even with all of her study, Henner didn’t realize that women have heart attacks, until the prop mistress on Evening Shade had one. At that point she realized how important it was for women to pay attention to their hearts. So, she decided to begin focusing on women’s health, and especially women’s cardiovascular health.
Henner said women tend to ignore their own health because they are so busy with everything else going on in their lives. She said that has to change and so that’s why she advocates for heart health.
Cardiovascular health is about getting on the right path in three areas in order to feel better, Henner told the crowd. Food, exercise and stress management are the three areas she talked about. When it comes to food, Henner said, “Learn to love the food that loves you,” then you realize that you eat to fuel your body and you won’t feel sick, bloated, tired, or constipated.
“Change your palate, change your life,” Henner said. “The more centered you eat, the more you start to really appreciate the flavor and taste the real food. If you improve the quality of your food, the quantity takes care of itself.”
As for exercise, Henner urged the crowd to fall in love with something and then do it every day.
“Nobody had to tell you to be a sweaty little kid to go out there and run around. Remember how much you loved playing?” she asked. “You know your cat stretches, you walk your dog, your hamster gets a wheel. We’re this beautiful human animal, we are designed to move, so why don’t we do something about that and learn how to move?”
Good posture, good shoes, and thinking of yourself as an athlete are all important for good health because all of them are connected to your heart, Henner said. Stress management is also important for good cardiovascular health.
“You have to fall in love with your stress, or it will kill you,” she said. “You better find some way around your stress or it will wipe you out.”
Henner urged the crowd to find something in their day that they really enjoy.
“You have to find something in your day that I call the juice. Those little things that really turn you on and are a stress reliever as well. You have to find something that you do every day that gives you that kind of juice,” she said.
That could be doing laundry, or driving or organizing things around your house. She told the story of Tony Danza on the set of the television show, Taxi.
“He’d come in and say ‘Hey, anybody got anything to iron? I feel a little stressed.’ He loved to iron. The wardrobe department would give Tony things to iron and that was a big stress reliever for him,” Henner said.
Henner told the crowd that they only have one body and so they need to take care of it.
“Being healthy is hard, being unhealthy is hard, maintaining your health is hard. Pick your hard. It’s all hard, but that’s what’s great about it,” Henner said. “This is life, this is the way it is. These are the things we get to do everyday because we’re alive and it’s a roller coaster ride, and we can ride thru it in fear or we can put our arms up and take the ride.”
During the luncheon. Susan May, who works in the Information Systems Department at Walmart shared her story, via video, of having chest pains, fatigue and shortness of breath at work one day last August. May ignored the symptoms, not even sharing them with her husband, Steven, even though she had a family history of heart disease.
“I just kept thinking, it’s going to pass and it’s going to be something simple. I don’t want to be a wimp,” May said.
The next day she shared how she was feeling with coworker Tabatha Drain in Oklahoma, over Walmart’s in-house messaging system. Drain sent the message back, “CHEST PAINS = HEART ATTACK.”
May went to a convenient care clinic and they found that she was having a full blown heart attack and had 99% blockage in her coronary artery. May’s message to women is to pay attention to warning signs because “the life you save may be your own.”
Cyd King, communications director for the NWA American Heart Association, said organizers hoped to raise $500,000 from the event. The money will go toward research, education and advocacy efforts by the American Heart Associations and the American Stroke Association. Last year the luncheon raised $414,000.
Marybeth Hays, executive vice president of consumables and health and wellness for Walmart U.S., was honorary chair of the event. Diana Marshal, vice president of baby for Walmart U.S., and Terry Marquardt, Walmart team lead consumer products group, were co-chairs. Sponsors for the event included Bayer Healthcare, Northwest Health, Harps Food Stores, 3M and The Emerson Group.
In the morning, before the luncheon, guests could visit booths that offered health screenings, visit an ambulance brought by the Rogers Fire Department and tour a giant brain. A silent auction that featured purses was also available.