By Dr. Jennifer H Mieres and Dr. Stacey E Rosen
Mother’s Day is behind us, which means that supermarkets everywhere have moved the thank-you-mom greeting cards and the mom-themed chocolate candy boxes to the discount aisle. But now that the official celebration of the women who brought all of us into life is over, our work is only just beginning. It’s time now that we give our mothers the gifts that they all desperately need, the gift of a healthy heart.
Before we get to the cheerful part, a grim reminder is in order: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for American women, responsible for about one in every three female deaths. Among women aged 20 and older, 45 percent are living with cardiovascular disease. The numbers are even more alarming among people of color: About half of Black women 20 and older suffer from heart disease. And, perhaps most troubling, despite the fact that heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined, only 44 percent of women recognize it as their greatest health threat.
Which is where all of us come in.
As physicians conducting research and treating patients, we’ve learned two very important things about women’s heart health. First, we know that many of the risk factors that lead to heart disease are modifiable, which means risks we can control or eliminate altogether. Smoking, high blood sugar, elevated cholesterol, being overweight or obese, high blood pressure, living a sedentary lifestyle—all of the above make women much more likely to experience a heart attack of other related illnesses. The good news is that knowing about these medical conditions allows you the opportunity to lower your risk.
We also know that the best—in fact, the only—way to curb these risks is to make sure women have the partners they need to affect meaningful, deep-seated changes that keep them healthy in the long term. You hardly need to be an MD to know that without adequate support, most of us are not likely to make any real lifestyle changes.
So this Mother’s Day, we can all give mom the help she deserves and needs, by remembering this simple acronym: GO MOM.
The GO stands for Goals, and for keeping them realistic. Commit to “losing weight,” say, and you’re likely to fail, because that is an amorphous objective that isn’t clearly defined and you’re likely to give up at the first sign of trouble. Similarly, resolve to lose twenty pounds in a month and you’ll likely end up back on the couch feeling defeated.
But you’ll be amazed by how doable heart healthy eating and an exercise plan can be when you set clear and achievable goals. And setting them should be both a family and an individual undertaking: we often eat dinners together with our families, after all, and spend so many hours with our loved ones, so it makes perfect sense that we involve them when we decide, for example, to opt for healthful foods and enjoying time outdoors, together. Small, repeated steps can have a huge impact on our heart health.
How do we know if we’re achieving our goals? This leads to the M, for Metrics, which means tracking progress. Looking for a creative gift this Sunday? Once you have those goals set, consider making a chart, or signing mom up for an app that can help her track her progress, or even splurge on an activity tracker. Knowing where you are on the wellness journey is an intense motivator and helps individuals and families correct make consistently better choices.
But tracking our progress is one thing, and making sure we’re held accountable to our commitments is another. Which leads us to the O, which stands for Owning it. This is perhaps the biggest thing you can do for mom, on Mother’s Day and any other day: Hold her accountable to making the changes she must make to stay healthier. Promise to call and check in on her daily health habits, take her to that yoga class, and together you can make sure she stays active. Every study we have shows that when people feel accountable to loved ones, they grow more dedicated in their pursuit of getting better and making real changes.
That last M stands for Mercy. Accountability is important when we set goals—and so is knowing when to forgive yourself and move on. A birthday party and a slice of cake or missing a day at the gym may not be objectively good, but they’re no reason for despair, harshness, and hurt. Most likely, our mothers have shown us the capacity to forgive, forget, and embrace countless times; now, it’s our turn to do the same for them.
So let’s all get busy, because every day, really, is mother’s day, and it’s time we all chipped in and gave mom a gift that will change her life.
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About the Authors:
Dr. Jennifer Mieres is a cardiologist and the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Northwell Health. Dr Stacey Rosen is a cardiologist and SVP of the Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell. They are co- authors of the book Heart Smarter for Women; Six Weeks to A Healthier Heart. Dr. Mieres and Dr. Rosen are volunteers for the American Heart Association.
Diego is the Communications Director for the American Heart Association in New York City. He loves sharing powerful stories that inspire people to take control of their health.