The heart is an amazingly intricate work of art. That theme that will be carried out in Oklahoma City this week during an art event to promote heart healthy living.
A single drop of blood circulates your entire body three times every minute. In one day, that drop of blood will travel 12,000 miles — that's coast to coast four times per day.
Friday is National Wear Red Day for Women and Heart Disease Awareness.
The Oklahoma Heart Hospital and The Paseo Arts District this year will team up for a special First Friday Gallery Walk event to raise money for the hospital and the art district.
Jo Wise, executive director of The Paseo Arts Association, is both an artist and an advocate for women's heart health, having worked for the American Heart Association for 15 years before coming to the Paseo.
“Because I've always been connected with the arts, and with the American Heart Association, I've witnessed firsthand how people that have hobbies, such as art, and have a way to relieve their stress and get their minds off their health, are the people that seem to recover faster,” Wise said.
Wise said the collaboration between the Paseo Arts District and the Oklahoma Heart Hospital was a natural for National Wear Red Day. Heart disease, she said, touches everyone, herself included. Her father and both grandparents suffered from the disease. She hopes that by pairing art and heart disease awareness, the image of the red dress as an icon for women's heart health will become as recognizable as the pink ribbon has become for breast cancer awareness.
“I can say that I've had more volunteers for this event, outside of the Paseo Art Festival, than any other event,” Wise said, because everyone is touched by the disease in some way.
“The heart is a beautiful organ,” said Oklahoma City registered nurse Brenda Head. She is an inpatient cardiac rehab nurse at Oklahoma Heart Hospital and treats women suffering from heart disease daily. She says heart disease among women is on the rise though many women aren't aware of the extraordinary risk that the disease, usually thought of as a man's disease, has become for women.
“Heart disease will kill one in three women in Oklahoma and women just are not aware of that,” she said. Breast cancer, the biggest health fear for many women, will kill one in 30 people.
“For two-thirds of women, their first symptom of heart disease is death.”
In fact, according to the Oklahoma Heart Hospital, Oklahoma is No. 1 in the nation in heart disease incidences and for men and women combined, is the No. 1 killer in Oklahoma.
Why? Because 26 percent of Oklahomans smoke. Two-thirds of Oklahomans are overweight, and most don't have a healthy diet or get enough exercise.
Head said she often hears stories from women that they have felt like something was wrong or they've just felt tired for years and the root of the problem often remains a mystery.
“I always tell women, make them prove it's not your heart,” she said. Part of the problem is that women often experience different symptoms of heart disease and heart attack than men.
For example, she treated a woman who was having severe pain in her elbow. The woman had recently undergone orthopedic surgery, so it seemed the most likely conclusion was that the pain was related to that surgery. The woman was having a heart attack.
“Too many women get missed because their symptoms are different and the type of heart disease they have is a little different. So their heart disease doesn't get diagnosed,” she said.
Heart disease has long been perceived as a man's disease, but women are almost as likely to die from it, especially if they don't acknowledge their own risk and take proactive measures to change the habits that increase their risk.
Handling stress makes difference
Aside from poor diets, lack of exercise and smoking, stress is a big contributor to heart disease. Stress can increase your blood pressure decrease the size of your arteries which can lead to blockages that prevent the healthy flow of blood throughout your body.
Learning ways to handle stress can make a big difference in your heart health. Whether it's reading, taking a walk or run or going out with friends, managing stress can help manage your heart.
“Just learning to laugh,” Head said. “Laughter is a tremendous stress relief.”
Here's the good news: you can almost reverse the damage you've done to your heart in the past by making behavioral changes in your life.
“Change is always hard. Even if we know we need to change,” Head said.
Fear is not a good motivator for change, but envisioning what you want your life to look like in five years, 10 years or 20 years can be. Picture yourself watching your children get married. Imagine your grandchild's first steps or what it will feel like to retire and travel the world. These images can be the best motivators, Head said.
“Start small, find ways reward yourself,” she said.
Changing your mindset is the key.
“They always say the definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.”
Head suggests a few ways you can change your behavior, thereby changing your results. Tell yourself that salad and veggies can be the main course of your dinner. Retrain yourself to look not for the closest parking spot to your destination, but the farthest. Don't smoke, instead take a brisk walk. Laugh with friends.
“Learning to think that a healthy lifestyle is not restricting, it is freeing. It is so much more fun to be healthy,” Head said.