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Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving Tips

Thanksgiving is about enjoying time with our family and celebrating with traditional foods we know and love. However, the holiday can impact the time we usually reserve for our healthy routines and involve meals that are not exactly made to be heart-healthy!

To keep your diet and health in check over the Thanksgiving holiday, try these ideas below, including ways to minimize stress and smart substitutions for your holiday meals.

Try healthy substitutes

We love family recipes, and these simple tricks make them better for you and your family’s heart health (without totally changing the taste).


  • Instead of butter, substitute equal parts cinnamon-flavored, no-sugar-added applesauce.
  • Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie sugar substitute.
  • Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk.
  • Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour.
  • Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries.
  • Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter.


  • Use vegetable oils such as olive oil instead of butter (even in your mashed potatoes).
  • Use herbs and spices, like rosemary and cloves, to flavor dishes instead of butter and salt.
  • Use whole-grain breads and pastas instead of white.
  • Bake, grill or steam vegetables instead of frying.
  • Instead of whole milk or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or fat-free/skim milk.

Prepare vegetables, eat a balanced meal

Now that you’ve prepared some of your Thanksgiving meal with healthy substitutes, prepare yourself a balanced plate of all your favorite holiday foods, starting with a salad and vegetables. Eating your veggies will ensure you get the nutrients you need and will help fill you up so you don’t overload on the foods your body needs less of, such as rolls, stuffing and pie.

Increase physical activity

Increase your physical activity over Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season to combat the extra calories and additional stress. Go for a family walk after each meal or gathering. Play catch with your kids. Take just 40 minutes for yourself and go to the gym to release endorphins your body needs to stay healthy.

Keep stress to a minimum

Taking care of family, cooking, cleaning—Thanksgiving can involve a lot of activities that not only keep you busy, but can also increase your level of stress. Keep stress to a minimum with stress management techniques. These can include:

  • Planning ahead to help you with time management
  • Focusing on one thing at a time
  • Taking time to relax

Get enough sleep

Part of living a heart-healthy lifestyle means getting enough sleep. Why? Because your quality of sleep can impact your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends adults get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Over the holiday, get into bed early to give yourself enough time to wind down after your day and to fall asleep faster and more soundly. Or try these tips to improve your sleep.

**This article was featured on Learn more ways to live healthy on Go Red For Women.

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National Eating Healthy Day Recognized in OKC

On November 4th the Oklahoma City Voices for Healthy Kids team attended the Oklahoma City Council meeting where we announced the signing of the proclamation by Mayor Mick Cornett declaring November 5th, as National Eating Healthy Day!

During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, we provided a brief overview of National Eating Healthy Day as it relates to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, we informed the council on how healthy options are not readily accessible in underserved areas within our community. The council was very receptive of the information and a general interest was conveyed for the initiative we are leading.

Councilman Pete White showed his interest in Tulsa’s Food on the Move and shared his desire to have similar localized nutrition conscious efforts implemented in Oklahoma City.  Mayor Mick Cornett re-tweeted a YTC tweet with the picture of staff and proclamation.

On November 5th the OKC VFHK team, along with Jennifer Seal,  AHA employee and local business owner, dropped off healthy food baskets to each of the Oklahoma City Councilmembers, Mayor Mick Cornett, and City Manager James Couch.

In each of these baskets was a short fact sheet about National Eating Healthy Day, which included a short tie-in to food access issues in Oklahoma City.

If you would like more information on our Voices for Healthy Kids effort please contact

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Albuquerque Recognizes World Stroke Day

On Monday, October 20th the Albuquerque City Council issued a proclamation at their meeting declaring October 29th as World Stroke Day.  It was a great event, with around 20 volunteers and public health advocates in attendance. All of the attendees who RSVP’d ahead of time were able to have their names read aloud and they were acknowledged as stroke survivors or AHA volunteers.  We partnered with the Albuquerque Stroke Club on this event, which really helped with its success.

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Tulsa Recognizes World Stroke Day

On October 23rd at the weekly City Council meeting, the Tulsa Council issued a proclamation recognizing October 29th as World Stroke Day. This was in the first time the Tulsa City Council has issued a proclamation related to stroke awareness.

In attendance to accept the proclamation was You’re the Cure advocates Donna McDannold and Thurman Paul.  Naomi Amaha and Communications Director Lindsey Hansen were also in attendance representing the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association

After the proclamation was accepted, Donna McDannold shared her story as a multiple-stroke survivor. Since 2011, Donna has endured seven strokes. Before her first stroke, she served as a critical care stroke specialist. Now Donna is an active stroke awareness advocate and huge supporter for the AHA’s advocacy work.  Her speech touched every person in the room, resulting in a standing ovation. 

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Texas Cities Recognize World Stroke Day


On Wednesday October 29th, World Stroke Day, stroke survivors John Murphy & Anand Raghunathan, as well as Grassroots Action Team member Charmagne Coston, met with Austin City Council member Laura Morrison to accept a proclamation declaring October 29th as World Stroke Day in Austin. John & Anand shared their experience with stroke and the group brainstormed on ways to educate more Austinites about the signs of stroke, especially during the next Stroke Month.   


On October 27 Dallas issued a World Stroke Day Proclamation to a number of AHA volunteers and staff, including 3 stroke survivors. Dallas City Councilmember Dwaine Caraway spoke about his family’s experience with stroke and talked about how devastating this disease can be to a family.   “Stroke changes people’s lives” and people are lost without support of organizations like the AHA,” said Caraway.

Fort Worth

There was a great turnout on October 26 at the Fort Worth City Council Meeting for the World Stroke Day Proclamation.  Stroke survivors Alex Laverock, Bill Mellander, and Steve Jacob, showed their support for stroke awareness as Mayor Betsy Price presented the proclamation to the survivors.  AHA staff Brian Brooks, Corrie Hayward, and Kelsey Bernstein were also in attendance.

Mayor Price spoke about how stroke affects the Fort Worth community, and even shared a great story about one of her friends who just recently had a stroke at the age of 42 and was in great health.

Alex was the AHA spokesperson, who shared his personal story and did an amazing job representing the AHA and the survivors in attendance. 

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World Stroke Day In Arkansas

World Stroke was observed in Arkansas, Wednesday, October 29th with a press event and simulation/demonstration of a stroke emergency.  Key dignitaries joining the event included Dr. Dan Rahn, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, who welcomed everyone and discussed how his facility is connecting with hospitals across the state with the telemedicine program specifically for stroke patients. 

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joseph Bates, of the Arkansas Department of Health discussed key risk factors for stroke and the high incidence of stroke in Arkansas.  He also highlighted the AR Stroke Registry and the importance of the data that is giving us better insight into the stroke system of care in the state.

Cammie Marti, RN, MPH, provided the following information about the Quality Systems Improvement program progress across the state:  In Arkansas, 41 hospitals tracked the quality of patient care provided to 4,588 stroke patients by participating in the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With the Guidelines-Stroke Program. This program allows hospitals to closely monitor and improve on their quality of care based on the latest research and treatment guidelines.

Michael Manley, RN and Director of the AR SAVES (Stroke Assistance thru Virtual Emergency Support), telemedicine program walked the audience through an actual stroke case demonstrating procedures and actions taken when a patient presents at the Emergency Department. 

State Representative Kim Hammer spoke about stroke from a Hospice Chaplin’s perspective.  Hammer is with Saline Memorial in Benton, Arkansas, and is a health advocate as well as a State Representative. Hammer presented a Proclamation signed by Governor Mike Beebe proclaiming Wednesday, October 29th as World Stroke Day across Arkansas.

Also joining the event was Joyce Taylor, Central AR Executive Director, Cindy Hudlow NW Arkansas Executive Director both of the American Heart Association,  Cammie Marti, RN MPH QSI Director for Arkansas, Dr. Curtis Lowery of UAMS and the States Telemedicine Director, and David Vrudny with the Arkansas Department of Health- Stroke Registry.

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You're the Cure Advocacy Summit - Illinois

This month we held the first You're the Cure Advocacy Summit in Illinois for our insider advocates, those who reached Champion and Hero rank in the previous fiscal year.

Our insiders started the day sharing their stories and their "Life is Why."

Then the group reviewed the upcoming State and Federal Priorities during a working lunch and then spent time learning how to effective tell their stories for all of our issues. The day ended by empowering advocates to take You’re the Cure in to their communities but using our customizable calendar of events.

Want to be a YTC Insider and be at next year’s summit? Start taking action at and move up in ranks!

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A Reflection on Gratitude and AHA in Montana

Guest Blogger: Amanda Cahill, Montana Government Relations Director

It’s been more than 10 years since I got the news that my dad, Tom, had had a heart attack.  I was 20 years old, an undergraduate student at University of Montana and in complete shock.  I knew he hadn’t been feeling great, but a heart attack at 53 years old, it couldn’t be possible.  One quadruple bypass and a devastating diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure later, my dad was eventually sent home.  The road since the surgery has not been easy, quite the opposite actually, but my dad is still here and for that I am grateful.

You see, my dad is one of those typical tough Montana guys.  He waited almost 3 hours before even telling his wife that he was having chest pain.  He didn’t want to burden anyone.  He’s a strong guy, a quality he instilled in me from an early age- the picture is from 1993, dad insisted that I drive that Jeep Hot Wheel, the pink Barbie Corvette was not an option.

Unfortunately, dad’s stubbornness was not in his best interest on the day of his heart attack.  What he didn’t know was that every minute he spent delaying his care, his heart muscle was dying.  To make matters worse, dad lives in a somewhat remote area of Montana, by the time the volunteer ambulance crew came, took him to a clinic with little expertise in heart attacks, and eventually to a larger hospital, a lot of his heart was damaged.  Today only 25% of his heart functions.  Luckily, that 25% is enough for him to live life with grace, happiness, and enough energy to walk me down the aisle last August. 

I tell you the story of my dad Tom because it is a perfect example of why I do what I do for the AHA and why that work is so critical in Montana.  Over the last 10 months, the AHA has dedicated several new staff members and millions of dollars to improve our cardiac care system in Montana.  We are doing this work through a project called Mission: Lifeline Montana. The aim of Mission: Lifeline is to equip ambulances and hospitals across the state with up-to-date equipment and increased communication skills in order to create better outcomes for people like my dad. 

Our family was lucky, we lived close enough to a large hospital that dad was saved in time.  This is not the case for hundreds of Montana families every year.  In Montana, your chances of receiving quality, guideline driven care during a heart attack are about 30%.  This means that people are dying unnecessarily and having poorer outcomes because of lack of a unified system of cardiac care across the state.  Mission: Lifeline Montana is going to improve this system. 

Our task force of Montana physicians, nurses, paramedics, and other medical professionals have been working diligently for the past 8 months to provide Montana with new guidelines to streamline care.  Additionally, we have awarded more than $875,000 to ambulance services and more than $864,000 to Montana hospitals to update their cardiac monitoring systems.  We will also be launching a public media campaign reminding people not to wait to call 9-1-1 when experiencing any signs and symptoms of a heart attack.  This is just the beginning of our work and I am grateful to be a part of an organization that is doing so much for Montanans.  To learn more about this life saving project go to

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Welcome Erin Bennett

Guest Blogger: Erin Bennett, Idaho Government Relations Director

I’m excited to join the American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association as the new Government Relations Director in Idaho, and to continue the great work we are doing to further our mission here.

The AHA/ASA has been advocating to improve the health of all Idahoans, and I’m looking forward to working with the fantastic volunteers to keep the momentum going strong. We recently secured CPR training as a high school graduation requirement, adding thousands of trained rescuers to Idaho’s population every year. I hope to continue this emphasis on Idaho’s youth by focusing on physical education standards and introducing healthy food initiatives in schools.

Recently, I joined the Governor’s Time Sensitive Emergency Council to improve quality systems of care throughout the state to ensure every Idahoan facing a medical crisis such as a heart attack or stroke receives the right care, in the right time, at the right place. I look forward to working with coalition groups to encourage smoke free cities and expand health care access. I’m also open to new ideas and opportunities to improve the health of Idahoans across the state.

Before joining the AHA, I served as an independent government and public affairs consultant, specializing in health care, education and non-profit issues. I have worked with the Idaho Legislature since 2005, as well as working in Oregon and on the Federal level. I have worked in campaigns, polling, strategic planning and development for various organizations in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, DC, and look forward to using my experience to further the mission of the AHA/ASA in the policy arena.

When I’m not working on public policy issues, I’m usually at the pool playing water polo, or at the park for a game of flag football with friends, traveling whenever possible, and annoying my dog tremendously. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with everyone involved in the AHA/ASA, and to continue making our community more awesome!

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There is Still Work to be Done in California to Reduce Obesity Prevalence

Guest Blogger: Grace Henscheid, Grassroots Advocacy Director

In early September the State of Obesity Report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust of America’s Health was released and it is clear there is still much work to be done in our fight against obesity.

While there are many statistics in the report, one of the numbers that stood out to us was that the obesity rate in California did not decrease this past year. In 2013, California ranked the 46th highest obesity rate in the nation with an adult obesity rate of 24.1%.

While California’s obesity rate is faring better when compared to the rest of the nation, when we compare apples to apples, California’s obesity rate has increased by 14% over the last 24 years. This staggering increase in the obesity rate illustrates the need to continue building communities that encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles. One of the programs the American Heart Association offers for free to people that are trying to improve their health is the “Life’s Simple 7” program. This program helps participants to manage heart health by understanding the importance of getting active, controlling cholesterol, eating better, managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar and stopping smoking.

In addition to this program we are actively working to combat the obesity epidemic by passing state and local legislation. These policies can include but not limited to: passing a state or local level tax on sugar sweetened beverages, monitoring current healthy vending regulations, increasing tobacco taxes, and increasing funds for obesity prevention programs.

There is much work to be done in California to drive down our obesity rate. With help from advocates like you we believe it is a battle we can win.  If you are interested in seeing how you can get involved, please contact Josh Brown at

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