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Simmons: Heart disease is a silent epidemic

Many of us know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the nation — and in Carroll County. But did you know that it’s the No. 1 killer of women? According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is responsible for one in three deaths of women. That’s more than breast cancer, which affects one in eight women.

I have the privilege of being the 2019 Go Red for Women chair for the American Heart Association of Greater Maryland, and I am passionate about the work of this movement. We cannot stop until the importance of heart disease prevention is talked about as much as the need for yearly mammograms.

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Go Red for Women has gone beyond wearing red in February; today, it aims to empower women to take charge of their health.

On February 1, I attended an inspirational breakfast in Baltimore, with a sea of beautiful women in red, to kick off our Go Red for Women activities in 2019. Here are some tips that were shared that morning to help improve heart health:

Make your health a priority. Get an annual check-up with your primary care provider. It is your opportunity to discuss your family’s medical history, be assessed for individual risks and take necessary interventions to improve your health.

Know your numbers. Along with getting an annual check-up, it’s vital to have a clear picture of your health when it comes to blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol and blood sugar. Your primary care provider will use these to help determine your risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Learn the warning signs. Knowing the warning signs for a heart attack and stroke could not only save your life, but also the lives of those you love. The sooner someone receives medical intervention in the case of stroke and certain heart attacks, the better the outcome. Heart attack signs for women may appear very different than men.

Strive for 30 minutes of activity a day. It doesn’t have to be all at once! Look for 10 minutes to take a brisk walk, park farther away from the store or use the stairs. It all counts and contributes to a healthier you.

Eat heart healthy. Incorporate more vegetables and whole grains into your diet. Eat lean proteins and reduce intake of processed foods. Try new recipes at home and make smart choices when eating out.

I went into health care because I enjoy taking care of others. Although I am no longer providing patient care at the bedside, I have a great responsibility for the health of our community, and that means I need to take care of myself to perform my best. Women so often put their own health aside because they are caring for their loved ones, but carving time out for your own health is crucial. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for those who love you.

Leslie Simmons is president of Carroll Hospital and executive vice president of LifeBridge Health.

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