My dad and I wearing our favorite red in the rain

3 Things Thursday: Why I Celebrate American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month. A month full of love and red is the perfect time to remind us all to focus on our hearts and the health of our families, friends, and communities.

Cardiovascular disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 5 killers in the U.S. 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day — that averages out to one death every 38 seconds! But it doesn’t have to be this way. By making healthy choices in our diets and lifestyles, we can improve our heart health and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases by as much as 80 percent.

For me, the motivation to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease is a personal one. Here are three big reasons why I celebrate American Heart Month in February.

1. I Celebrate American Heart Month to Honor My Dad

My dad and I wearing our favorite red in the rain

12 years ago, my dad suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke. The less common of the two types of stroke — accounting for only 15% of all strokes — a hemorrhagic stroke is either a brain aneurysm burst or a weakened blood vessel leak.

In my dad’s case, his stroke was likely the result of a lifetime of damage to and weakening of his blood vessels from high blood pressure. But he had his risk-factor bases well covered — he also had high cholesterol levels most of his life, didn’t eat the healthiest diet, was overweight, dealt with significant stress, and developed Type 2 diabetes.

Some of my dad’s risk factors for stroke could have been controlled, and this is why it’s so important to educate yourself about heart disease and take action to protect your heart health. Life can catch up with you when you least expect it.

2. I Celebrate American Heart Month for MY Heart Health

After what my family went through with the loss of my dad, you would think I would have taken excellent care of my health from that point forward. I wish I could say that I did. But again, life catches up with you and can derail your good intentions.

When my dad passed away, I was actually in the best shape of my life. I was at a healthy weight, I ate a healthy diet, and I got plenty of physical activity. But then I started dating my husband and eating out A LOT. I started my first professional job, got engaged, and moved into our old house — my first house and a major fixer upper. My habits took a turn for the worse and I was plagued with stress from all angles. After we got married in 2008, my weight started its slow ascent — I gained nearly 50 pounds over the next seven years.

My weight gain led to my worst nightmare — I was diagnosed with elevated blood pressure. I went on medication for it, but I knew I didn’t want that for myself. Since then, I have taken steps to clean up my diet. I even ran a half marathon to get in shape! And I was able to get off medication. I want it to stay that way.

Finishing the Discover Whitewater Series half marathon in 2015

I know that I can’t change my family history with cardiovascular disease, but I can control my lifestyle. It’s a work in progress every day. It might be the most important work I will ever do.

3. I Celebrate American Heart Month to Show My Family Love

Cardiovascular disease greatly affected my family. To date, the impact has been devastating. I want to turn that around for my family now.

Jason and I are eating healthy. I’m working up my cardiovascular strength again with elliptical workouts, and I’m hitting the mat for Pilates and yoga. Jason is even hopping on the elliptical a few nights a week after work. Plus, I’m taking steps to better manage the stress in my life, including daily meditation with Headspace. All of these changes are improving our heart health so we can be around for each other — AND for the dogs, of course — for a long time to come.

The dogs and I celebrating Wear Red Day and American Heart Month

I’m also thrilled to be an American Heart Association Midwest Social Media Ambassador! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook for heart health inspiration from me and the American Heart Association. Together, we can create a culture of health for our families and friends!

Who do YOU celebrate American Heart Month for?

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