Today, Feb 7th, is Go Red for Women day, an American Heart Association initiative designed to increase awareness, fundraise, and promote change to improve women’s health (learn more or donate here).
While awareness and education are fundamental, a once a year event is too often acknowledged and then forgotten…unfortunately probably replaced by next week’s inevitable “celebrate with cake day” or “national donut day” or “eat as many chicken wings as you can” day. Promotional and awareness days compete for our attention. But let’s pledge to ourselves to make the important ones stick. To make them more than a once-a-year reminder and instead use them as a catalyst to commit to change.
HBD is all about positive health behaviors. Understanding that much of the controllable aspects of our health are the collective result of daily lifestyle habits and choices, we educate and empower populations to make small and sustainable changes that help them live their best version of life.
So today, we’d like to challenge you to not only #WearRedDay but commit to doing at least one thing that benefits your health. Beyond that, make today the day that you find someone else wearing red (or better yet, reach out to someone not wearing red) and invite them to join you in participating in a heart-healthy activity today. Perhaps you might even commit to making today’s healthy activity a part of your regular routine – offering to keep each other accountable for continuing the change for the rest of February… and hopefully beyond.
Changes don’t have to be dramatic. They might simply be a switch from an existing habit to a healthier version, or finding an opportunity to take even 5-15 minutes from your day to focus on you. Here are some suggestions:
Eat fish today: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna have omega-3 fatty acids which have been extensively studied for their heart health benefits. For a lasting change, don’t just choose fish today, but aim to include it in your diet a couple of times per week.
Jog for 5-10 minutes, or walk for 15-30 minutes: Ever heard of the term dose-response? It’s a concept often used in connection with medication, where you need a certain amount to reach a threshold where it’s effective, but if you increase it too much, it can become risky or detrimental. There’s some suggestion exercise may be similar. The good news is, the “effective dose” is basically anything above zero! Doing any is better than none and it’s been suggested that bouts as little as 5-10 minutes can have significant heart health benefits – even at low intensity – with greater benefits if these bouts are very frequent. There’s also some evidence that repeated extreme and high-intensity exercise may not be ideal for most people. That’s good news for most of us, knowing that you don’t have to feel guilty if you’re not an “athlete”… but just moving regularly can have amazing benefits. Can you find 5-15 minutes today… and most days? (watch this great TED talk).
Call an old friend: When life is busy, we often focus on what’s immediately in front of us. We kid ourselves into thinking we’re “staying in touch” by quickly scrolling our Facebook feed, but let’s be honest… a couple of “like” clicks isn’t productive social interaction. Studies have suggested strong social connections can impact longevity on par with things like not smoking and controlling your blood pressure. They positively impact both physical and mental health. It’s also been shown that it’s much easier to reconnect with an old acquaintance than to try to establish a brand new friendship from scratch. So dust off your roller deck (if you’re under 35, trust me… it’s a thing) and call up an old friend.
Have an early night: The modern world is fast-paced, but the need for our body to get good quality regenerative rest hasn’t changed. Much of the modern pace and “busy-ness” is merely a perception. As a culture, we’ve linked a sense of being busy with being important. I urge you to reflect on your week or your month… think of everything you’ve been consumed by and rushed to fit in. How much of it is actually important and productive? Think of the evening or weekend work and screen time… does it actually make a significant productive difference if it’s completed at 10pm at night, or would it be just as productive if it was done at 9am the next morning? There is clear and compelling evidence that people who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for heart disease (learn more from the CDC here). Make a commitment to switch off, read a book, and get some quality Z’s tonight. See how much better you feel tomorrow.
Be mindful of this weekend’s cocktails: It’s easy to use the often quoted headline that moderate drinking might be good for heart health as an excuse to indulge in a few. But… similar to the “dose-response” mentioned above, we need to be cautious and not generalize this idea of “drinking is good for you”. While moderate drinking may not be detrimental to health, and for some people, maybe somewhat healthy, it’s certainly not a reason to start drinking or an excuse to have another. Many people underestimate their alcohol intake. “Moderate drinking” is defined as one drink for women, and two drinks for men. A "drink" is 5oz of wine, a 12oz beer, or 1.5oz of liquor. With our huge wine glasses, bars and restaurants commonly overpouring, beer commonly being served in pints or the latest trend for higher alcohol craft brews… many people have significantly more than "one drink" for every, well, one drink. Often that "one drink" is actually 1.5-2.5 standard drinks. Where light and moderate drinking – which really isn’t very much – may have some benefits, heavier drinking appears to be detrimental for many aspects of health (learn more of the specifics here). Alcohol also impacts sleep quality, which for many is already compromised. So there are many reasons to consider cutting back or limiting the weekend cocktails this week, and every week.
Promoting and supporting heart health is a great initiative. We hope everyone reading this today has opted to #WearRed, but we also hope that many of you will do more than promote awareness and actually take the next step towards positive action… not only for yourself, but also encouraging and challenging those around you. Share with a comment on what you plan to do today, or better yet, make a public pledge to make this change a regular part of your ongoing routine!