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First lady Patti Blagojevich and health care partners host Women's Healthy Heart Month event          Send a link to a friend

Experts coach women on heart-healthy eating and fitness

Exercise and cooking demonstrations in the Thompson Center in conjunction with National Wear Red Day

[FEB. 6, 2006]  CHICAGO -- First lady Patti Blagojevich, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the American Heart Association teamed up on Friday to celebrate Women's Healthy Heart Month by encouraging women to take steps to help prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death among women. The event at the James R. Thompson Center, held in conjunction with National Wear Red Day, included cooking demonstrations by chef Jay Hugh McEvoy and Virginia Erwin and fitness demonstrations by the East Bank Club.

"Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women," Mrs. Blagojevich said. "By raising awareness about heart disease in women and teaching women how they can lower their risk of having a heart attack, we can help them lead longer and healthier lives."

At the event on Friday, Illinoisan Valeria Werner, a heart attack survivor, talked about her experience with heart disease and the importance of leading a heart-healthy life. Part of leading a heart-healthy life includes making sure to eat healthy. J. Hugh McEvoy, American Culinary Federation certified executive chef, and Virginia Erwin, president and founder of Ginetics -- a nutrition, wellness and fitness consulting business -- demonstrated different ways to cook healthy meals.

Physical activity is also important when it comes to staying healthy. In fact, physically active women have approximately 60 percent to 75 percent lower risk of heart disease than women who are not physically active. The East Bank Club helped enforced that message with a few fitness demonstrations for the crowd.

The event was in conjunction with National Wear Red Day, when women and men are encouraged to wear red as a sign of support for awareness of women's heart disease. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sponsor of the national Feb. 3 observance, provided all female members of the Illinois General Assembly with red dress pins for National Wear Red Day. The institute is part of the National Institutes of Health and provides leadership for a national program in diseases of the heart, blood vessels, lung and blood; blood resources; and sleep disorders.

The Illinois first lady kicked off Women's Healthy Heart Month on Wednesday by illuminating the Merchandise Mart with red lights. The Merchandise Mart will be lit in red every evening throughout the month of February to raise awareness about heart disease in women and to honor those whose lives have been affected by it. Award-winning actress Jane Seymour and Christopher Kennedy, the president of Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., joined the first lady for the lighting.

"I was astounded to learn that almost nine times more women die of heart disease than breast cancer each year," said Jane Seymour. "I'm currently working with the California Pistachio Commission to help spread awareness about heart disease and how it can affect so many women. As a woman, daughter, sister and mother of two girls, I realize how this issue could easily touch my own life. I was honored to join the first lady of Illinois, Mrs. Patti Blagojevich, and Christopher Kennedy to light up the Merchandise Mart in red to celebrate American Heart Month."

"Every year, heart disease takes the lives of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters," said Chris Kennedy, president of Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. "We are proud to partner with Jane Seymour and First Lady Patti Blagojevich to help raise awareness about this deadly disease. By illuminating the Merchandise Mart each night during the month of February, we can help remind women to take the right steps toward living longer and healthier lives."

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There are many factors that can increase the chance of developing heart disease. While some risk factors can't be controlled, like age, family medical history and race, there are several that can be controlled.

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • High blood cholesterol

  • Overweight, obesity

  • Physical inactivity

  • Diabetes

As important as it is to know the risk factors of heart disease, it's also important to know the warning signs of a heart attack. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most of them start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  • Chest discomfort

  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Sometimes palpitations, dizziness, cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

If someone experiences one or more of these warning signs, don't wait longer than five minutes before calling for help. Call 911 and get that person to a hospital.

During Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's administration, the Illinois Department of Public Health's Office of Women's Health has continued to administer three specific cardiovascular programs: Heart Smart for Women, Heart Smart for Teens and the Illinois WISEWOMAN Program.

"We are making great strides in addressing women's health issues with the support and commitment of Governor Blagojevich," said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. "The work he has done has allowed us to aggressively respond to women's health concerns, like heart disease, with educational tools, high blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, and implementation of programs that make a difference."

Heart Smart for Women is a 12-week education program where participants learn the benefits of exercise and nutrition as well as how to reduce their cardiovascular risk. Last year more than 2,300 women participated in the program, and more than 60 percent of those women reported improved nutrition or physical activity levels.

Heart Smart for Teens is a nine-week education program to educate adolescent girls about the risk factors of cardiovascular disease and teach them the importance of a healthy diets and physical activity. Last year more than 2,100 girls completed the program, and almost 70 percent of those girls reported improved knowledge about nutrition and physical activity.

The Illinois WISEWOMAN Program is designed to help women reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes through screenings, physical activity and healthy eating habits. This research program is offered in 20 Illinois counties and targets women in the Illinois Breast and Cervical Program.

For more information on heart disease or women's health issues, visit or call 1 (888) 522-1282.

[News release from the governor's office]

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