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Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

February 1 was National Wear Red Day, a day to wear red in order to raise awareness of heart disease, and February is American Heart Month, a time when many national, state and local agencies and organizations work to educate the public about this number one killer of men and women in the United States. Heart disease is a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to a heart attack, but it is a disease whose risk can be strongly mitigated by healthy lifestyle habits.
Some facts about heart disease include:

• In women, rates of heart disease start to increase from age 40 to 60.
• Heart disease disproportionately affects women of color.
• Heart disease risk is exacerbated by high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity and high cholesterol.
• Heart disease risk is hereditary.
• One survey of 2,700 women found that 80 percent did not know their cholesterol levels.
• Being 55 or older increases the risk of heart disease in women.
• The average age of a first heart attack for men is 66 years.
• More than one in three Americans suffer from cardiovascular diseases, which include heart disease and stroke.

A Department of Veterans Affairs study of 15,660 men from 1983 to 2006 found that men who were "highly fit" had a 70 percent lower risk of death compared to those who were in the "low fit" category. The study found that the risk of death is cut in half by exercise equivalent to a brisk walk of 30 minutes, five to six days a week.

We can all make changes to our lifestyle that will decrease our risk of heart disease, as well as the risk of our family members. Healthy diet, regular, brisk exercise and quitting smoking are controllable risk factors. Being aware of your hereditary predisposition to heart disease also helps when making lifestyle choices. Be proactive about your health and your physical condition. Know your cholesterol levels and your blood pressure. In addition to helping you, this also sets a good example for those around you. Living a healthy life encourages those around you to do the same, as they see the results of your investment in your health. If you are a parent of young children, taking time to feed them healthy food and encouraging them to exercise will pay off for them years down the road-it's worth the complaints you might get! Researchers now know that heart disease can begin to form in the teenage years. It is our responsibility as parents to give our children the best physical start they can and, frankly, it's one of the best gifts we can give them. In a similar vein, if you have aging parents, be sure to encourage them to maintain healthy eating and exercise habits. These will delay the onset of not just heart disease but other physical and mental illnesses associating with aging.

As a co-chair of the Congressional Heart and Stroke Caucus, I encourage you to make this month and the rest of 2008 a time to improve your health for you and your family!

You can learn more about heart disease and general health issues at my website: