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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
January 31, 2003
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at American Heart Association Lunch and Fashion Show
Thank you, Betsy, for your warm welcome. And thank you, Reverend Card, for your beautiful invocation. Thank you to the Women's Board of the American Heart Association for hosting this important event. I am delighted to celebrate your 55th Valentine Lunch and Fashion Show.
My daughters would be happy that I am here, too, since they think my wardrobe needs "major work." Their typical response whenever they see me in a new outfit is "Mommm!"
Barbara and Jenna would also be glad that I am spending time with you today and doing something for myself, rather than organizing their lives -- something all women are guilty of.
Most of us spend time taking care of other people, rather than ourselves. I am not talking about long soaks in the tub or facials and hair cuts. These are little perks that make us look good on the outside. I am talking about eating right, exercising and visiting our doctor -- things are vital to good health.
As women, we love to share advice and information with each other. When a friend tells us about a miracle wrinkle cream, we immediately run out and buy it. If a co-worker recommends a new low-fat recipe for triple chocolate brownies, we race home and try it. But if a friend tells us that heart disease is the number one killer of women in America and that we need to get a check-up, we dismiss it and say, "I'll try to go when I have time."
What would you do if your spouse or a loved one went for an annual check-up and was diagnosed with high cholesterol -- a risk factor for heart disease? You would probably go to the library and check out every book on the subject. Then you might go to the grocery store and buy all the fruits and vegetables you could find to help him eat a more healthful diet. You would encourage him to exercise every day and to see his doctor regularly. So -- why don't we do the same for ourselves?
This is a question women cannot avoid any longer. Heart disease kills nearly 500,000 women in America every year -- nearly the population of Washington, DC. What is even more alarming is that fewer than half of all women are aware of this risk. We know a great deal about breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Most women identify cancer as the leading cause of death.
Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. One in 25 women will die from breast cancer. One in 2 will die from heart disease. But heart disease is not simply a set of statistics. It affects all of us -- our mothers, sisters and daughters. Women who will not have the chance to attend their daughter's wedding. Women who will not see their grandchildren grow up.
These statistics are disturbing. But what is even more disturbing is that heart disease is often preventable. Women can stop becoming statistics and start becoming healthier right now.
We must educate ourselves and other women about the risks of heart disease -- and we must commit ourselves to a lifestyle that promotes lifelong health. Knowledge is our strongest medicine. Now that we know about the dangers of heart disease, we can make simple changes in our lives to reduce our risk. And when it comes to improving our health, little steps can make a big difference.
The first step is to get moving. We all know we should exercise; and we all know the excuses for not doing it -- too busy, too tired, or too confused about how much is enough. There is one absolute when it comes to exercise: any amount of exercise is better than none. In a recent study of more than 70,000 post-menopausal women at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, women cut their risk of heart disease by up to 40 percent whether they walked or jogged for just 30 minutes a day.
Walking is one of my favorite forms of exercise. I love to walk on trails at Camp David and at the ranch in Crawford. It is estimated that if just 10 percent of adults began walking regularly, we could save 5.6 billion dollars in costs related to heart disease. So grab a friend, your children or the family pet and go for a walk. With my schedule it is tough to make time to exercise, but I try to walk at least three times a week. And if my mother-in-law Barbara Bush, who is 77, can swim 88 laps at a time, the rest of us can surely walk 30 minutes. Incorporating strength training into an exercise program is also a great way to increase muscle mass and strengthen bone density -- which is vitally important for women. I work out with free weights at least twice a week and I am much stronger since I started lifting weights.
Exercising is a great first step to good health, but it must be combined with a balanced, healthy diet. For many of us, this is truly the hard part. My New Year's resolution every year is to lose weight. But this year, my resolution was to get and to stay healthy. It is not as simple as it seems. But healthier eating might be easier if we followed Erma Bombeck's advice. She said, "Never order food in excess of your body weight."
There are simple steps we can take to lower our risk of heart disease. Healthy eating requires choosing the right foods and preparing them in a healthy way. Studies show that the more fruits and vegetables we eat, the more we can decrease our risk for heart disease. It is also essential that we model healthy behavior and set a good example for our children. Most of us do the grocery shopping for our families. We can avoid eating junk food simply by not buying it. And we can read the labels when we shop for groceries. Reducing blood cholesterol by dietary means has been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease.
Exercise and healthy eating will make you feel great. But only your doctor can give you a clean bill of health. Women must visit their doctor and get preventive screenings. Routine screenings save lives. Often when women have chest pain they think it is just heartburn. Women do not associate chest pain with a heart attack because only middle-aged, overweight men have heart attacks. Do not let heart disease go undetected. Go see your doctor. Get your blood pressure checked regularly. And if you have a family history of heart disease, inquire about preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk.
Preventive screenings, healthy eating, and exercise are vital steps we must take for good overall health. They are not steps we can pencil in whenever we have time. They must become part of our daily lives. Healthy living is about living better and living longer. And lifelong health must be every woman's goal for herself, her family and her friends.
Author Louise Erdrich writes about the power of storytelling in Native American culture. For Native Americans, talking and sharing stories are ways they keep their culture alive. Erdrich wrote, "I got well by talking. Death could not get a word in edgewise, grew discouraged, and traveled on." Women must keep talking about the risks of heart disease. We must educate ourselves and each other -- because although heart disease is the number one killer of women, heart disease is preventable. And we must do more than talk when it comes to exercising and healthy eating.
This Valentine's Day, the American Heart Association wants you to reach out to every woman you know -- every mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Talk to them about the risks of heart disease and encourage them to visit their doctor. We must take better care of each other and of ourselves, o that we can continue to take care of all the people we love.