Not only does the Twin Cities metro area have strong schools, well-kept parks, high-quality health care, and a wide range of entertainment options, but we were recently recognized in a study commissioned by the American Heart Association as “America’s Heart Friendliest Place for Women” among mega-metro areas.
The first place ranking was quite an accomplishment, considering the fact that the study focused on the 200 largest metro areas in the U.S., or close to 75 percent of the nation’s total population. The research analyzed 22 factors for each location in the categories of risk indicators (predictive factors that may lead to heart disease such as tobacco use, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes), health status (how many residents have health care, how many actually receive routine checkups, and the number of physicians and cardiologists in the area), and heart disease mortality statistics.
According to Dr. Priscilla Hedberg, medical director of the HealthEast Women’s HeartAdvantage Program and cardiologist with the St. Paul Heart Clinic, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area has top scores in affordability of and access to health care, as well as the lowest number of cardiovascular mortality rates in the country—despite also having one of the lowest numbers of physicians and cardiologists per capita.
“This tells us that the health care system in our metro area is extremely well-run and efficient,” Dr. Hedberg explains of the results.
Another factor playing into our No. 1 ranking is the legislators who work hard to pass heart-healthy legislation such as smoke-free work places and smoking bans in public places. As a result, fewer people are smoking, leading to a noticeable decrease in the number of acute heart attacks.
Twin Citians also seem to understand the importance of regular exercise, whether that means going to a gym or exploring the great outdoors.
Dr. Stanton Shandeling, supervisor of the Minnesota Department ofHealth’s Heart Disease and Stroke Preven-tion Unit and Center for Health Promotion says the Twin Cities environment is exercise-friendly when it comes to biking, walking, and running. There are plenty of trails, parks, and lakes to walk, bike, and run around, and city officials do a good job of reminding people of these natural resources.
“The Twin Cities area promotes activity,” he explains. “The messaging for getting people out and moving is definitely there.”
First Lady Megan O’Hara, wife of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, agrees that the city does a good job of encouraging people to move. Not only do she and R.T. walk, bike, and visit their local health club, but their kids, Charlie, 19, and Grace, 17, have followed their parents’ lead—enjoying the lakes, and biking, rollerblading, and running.
First Lady Connie Coleman, wife of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, says the entire family is physically active. Connie belongs to Corepower Yoga and Chris works out regularly at the St. Paul Police Gym (he’s also been known to finish a few Twin Cities Marathons). Molly, 16, is a swimmer and soccer player, and Aidan, 13, plays baseball, soccer, and hockey. The family all takes turns walking Roscoe, their 60-pound Golden Doodle dog.
Not only is it critical to move your body, it’s also important to pay attention to what you put into your body, and while not everyone follows the recommendations, the Twin Cities area has done a good job of promoting healthy eating.
“We’re more conscious about our meal choices now than we used to be,” Dr. Shandeling says. “We’re becoming more aware of healthy options, eating better, and eating less.”
First Lady Mary Pawlenty, her husband, Governor Tim Pawlenty, and their kids, Anna, 15, and Mara, 12, enjoy a wide variety of foods including plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats, “which makes the occasional treat OK.”
She adds that when it comes to healthy eating, it’s less challenging to shoot for a balanced week rather than a balanced day. “Somehow that seems more manageable,” she comments.
As creator of the First Lady’s Heart Health Initiative, an awareness campaign for women about reducing the risk of heart disease, Mary also takes care of her heart through strength training, working out on elliptical machines, running, hiking, and going for walks.
“My one recommendation for women interested in making a small, heart-healthy change is to find a girlfriend who will go walking with you,” she says. “You can catch up on each other’s lives while getting some exercise.”
Living in a heart friendly city, however, does not automatically give us a “get out of jail free” pass when it comes to heart health. There is still work to be done in raising awareness and preventing and treating heart disease.
“Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women,” says Dr. Hedberg. “Women of color continue to be at a very high risk of cardiovascular disease. There continues to be disparities within each city due to variances in access to health care, race, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood structure.”
And the issue of obesity is still a cause for concern, says Dr. Shandeling. Obesity can lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, among other medical issues.
“The incidence of obesity has risen in Minnesota 140 percent since 1992. We have a ticking time bomb on our hands,” he warns. “If we don’t start addressing this issue, we’re going to see kids having heart attacks.”
Women of all ages should be concerned about heart disease. You can take preventive steps by not smoking, knowing your blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index, getting tested for diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and managing stress. You should also know how to identify the warning signs or symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks. Red flags include chest or arm pain, shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t get enough air), dizziness, nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), abnormal heartbeats, or feeling tired.
While more and more woman are aware of the signs and symptoms of heart disease—a definite move in the right direction—whether or not they’re taking action is another story. The alarming truth is that women are more likely to die of heart disease than anything else. Women need to know their risk factors and symptoms and take preventive steps. They need to be their own best advocates.
There are some basic steps you can take to make a positive impact on your health, your family’s health, and your city’s status on the list. Start by visiting www.GoRedForWomen.org to get your “Go Red Heart Style Guide” with actionable plans, tips, recipes, a free magazine subscription, and more to help you live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Most Heart Friendly Cities For Women
1. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
2. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, VA
3. San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, CA
4. Denver-Aurora, CO
5. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA
6. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
7. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR
8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA
9. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA
10. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ