Exercise & Fitness

A pound of prevention

story by Natalie McAllister

Medical experts say it’s time to admit Americans have a problem: One in four people in the United States will develop heart disease in their lifetime, and an alarming number of them are women.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in this country, and yet, heart health is often the least worrisome among patients. With the ever-present warnings about skin cancer, breast cancer (one in eight women are diagnosed) and the battle against obesity, the subtle symptoms of heart problems are easy to ignore.

In Kansas City, hospitals and doctors are setting forth precedence for prevention. At the Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center, inside Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, prevention and awareness have attracted big names. In 2010, former First Lady Laura Bush cut the ribbon alongside one of Saint Luke’s top cardiologists, Dr. Tracy Stevens, to celebrate the new Center.

“Americans think their health is someone else’s responsibility,” says Dr. Stevens. “You have to exercise and make healthy decisions on a daily basis, and it’s not easy to do that.”

The Center offers Heart Wellness packages designed to develop a sense of responsibility and to teach women (and men) how to be proactive about their heart health. Starting at $50, women can spend one hour in the Center’s spa-like environment (think warm colors, comfortable sofas and water sounds) undergoing an individualized risk analysis that includes blood pressure, waist measurements, body mass index and lab work for lipids, blood sugar and thyroid-stimulating hormone. These measurements are informative, and should anything alarming arise, Dr. Stevens takes the steps necessary to set treatment in motion, sometimes on the same day.

At the University of Kansas Hospital’s Adelaide C. Ward Women’s Heart Health Center, the Change of Heart program supports patients with positive life changes. The 90-minute assessment ($60 for same-day results) includes analysis of body composition, nutrition, exercise and family risk factors, culminating in a one-on-one action plan discussion with Karin Morgan, R.N. and program director for the Center.

“We talk to women about making better choices on a daily basis,” Morgan says. “We also talk about the 90/10 rule. It’s what you do 90 percent of the time that makes a difference, not 10 percent of the time.”

Nutrition is a big component of Change of Heart, and takeaways include a pedometer, journal and nutrition guidelines from restaurants and fast-food places in the area. “The healthiest food doesn’t contain labels,” Morgan hints.

For both women’s heart centers, advocacy and education are the keys to stopping the epidemic of heart disease, and the message for women is consistent: Have your heart evaluated often, whether or not you are experiencing symptoms. “Heart disease is not just an older person’s disease,” says Dr. Stevens. “We’ve traditionally thought of heart disease as a predominately a man’s disease, and we’re still behind the eight ball in terms of knowing it affects more women than men.”

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