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Maine Goes Red!

Friday, February 5th we celebrate national Go Red for Women day.  I love this day.  It is really great to go from one event to another and see everyone sporting their red.  I am looking forward to educating the people who I encounter about the risks of cardiovascular disease to the women they love.

I plan to start the day by providing my yoga class with some red dress pins.  Then it is off to Portland for a press conference with the new mayor.  My husband’s cousin, a Maine College of Art student, will be volunteering as Ticker at the event, so I will be sure to post pictures.

The legislature is not in session on Friday, but after the press conference, I will be headed to a meeting with a Senator and some American Heart Association volunteers to discuss ways to ensure Maine accepts the federal funds available to provide Maine women (and men) with access to affordable health care. 

We will be discussing the bad news, that heart disease is the number one killer of women—killing more women that all forms of cancer combined—approximately one woman every minute.  However, we will also be celebrating that over the past decade, cardiovascular disease in women has decrease by more than 30% with 285 fewer women dying per day.  Better access to health care will drop those numbers even further.

I hope you enjoy Go Red for Women day too.  I also hope you post pictures of yourself looking fabulous in red.  Remember to use the hashtag: #MaineGoesRed on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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Bucket List

One of the great things about living in Maine is that you are never very far from some amazing nature.  This past weekend I was able to cross “stay at that amazing house on top of Morse Mountain” off my bucket list.  I have admired that house every time I have hiked the two miles up and down the other side of the mountain to Small Point Beach.  Luckily for me, my friend turned 40 and his wife bought him a weekend on the mountain to celebrate.  The weather was very un-Maine like, so we were able to enjoy hiking and playing on the beach without 10-below wind chill.  We were also able to enjoy watching all the hikers, from 8 months to 80 years old laughing, smiling and getting some good exercise.  Mainers know that, when the weather is nice, you have to head outside.  The nice weather could be fleeting.  I hope you all got outside for some fresh air and exercise last weekend and will do the same this weekend.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.  People who need to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol are advised to get 40 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity 3 to 4 times a week to lower their risk for heart attack or stroke. 

You can accomplish this by hiking a beautiful mountain, or as I did today (it is pouring outside) by walking laps around your office building.  I hope that, in honor of American Heart month you commit to taking care of your heart by getting the recommended exercise.  Oh, and if this 40-50 degree weather continues, get outside!

 

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Yoda for Yoga

New Year’s Resolution:  Take care of me.

My New Year’s resolution this year sounds simple.  Take care of myself.  However, this is not always an easy task.  I am fortunate to work for an employer who values health, both mental and physical.  We have the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s off from work. I was able to spend time with my family, rest a bit, binge watch The Man in the High Castle and exercise almost every day.  It was wonderful.

Of course, now that the legislature is back in session and I have 3 (!) public hearings scheduled for next week, it is hard to hold on to the time for myself.  I have testimony to write and seemingly endless meetings.  It will take more than simple will to make sure I am rested, eating well and exercising.  It will take diligence. 

When my alarm went off at 5:45 this morning so that I could haul myself out of the house into the dark cold to go to yoga, it was easy to hit snooze.  However, I didn’t (ok, I did once, but then got right up).  I had Yoda running through my head in a continuous loop:  "Do or do not.  There is no try."

So, this morning it was Yoda for Yoga.  Tomorrow I will have to find another mantra.  Do any of you have one I can use?  If so, let me know! 

Becky.Smith@Heart.org.  I will need all the help I can get.

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Good Thought for the New Year

I remember dreading going back to school after vacation.  I remember feeling that the break was not long enough and that I still had a lot of sleeping to do.  That early wake up the first week back was painful. Maybe that is because I only remember middle and high school. 

The two week break that my daughter just finished was plenty long enough—for her and for me.  I was lucky to have been able to also take some of that time with her.  One of the last days of vacation, she asked me if she could go to her school playground.  She missed the monkey bars.  Even though it was pretty cold out, I happily obliged.  I knew she needed the fresh air and exercise.

She spent a solid 30 minutes running from various monkey bars to slides and back again.  However, once I could no longer feel my fingers, she asked if we could go peer in the window of her classroom.  We found her room and she regaled me with stories about school and how much she could not wait to go back.

I was pretty proud.  (I decided not to be offended that she was a bit bored of running errands with her mom).  I was also very happy that the food she was served at her school is healthier than it was when I was a kid and that her school understands the need for kids to have 2 recesses each day.

My only disappointment with her school (and almost all Maine schools) is that she only has PE once a week for 45 minutes.  That is just not enough.  The American Heart Association believes that kids C’s age should have PE for 150 minutes a week—that is over 100 minutes more than her current level.   Half of that time should be spent in vigorous physical activity.  Sure, she runs around at recess, but what about the kids who don’t?  They need to learn what quality PE teachers teach.  Lifelong habits that promote good health and safe exercise.  Then maybe C’s generation will be able to turn around our obesity trajectory.  Good thought for a new year.

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Get Social With Your Members of Congress

Will you be on Facebook or Twitter today? Your Members of Congress and their staff will be, and it's a good place to reach them according to a report released in October by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF).

The CMF report, #SocialCongress, says Congressional offices are listening to social media chatter and it takes relatively few posts or comments to get their attention. That's good news for us!

So, how can you use the Facebook newsfeed or Twitter timeline to get the attention of lawmakers and help pass heart healthy policies?

  • Follow your members of Congress, as well as state and local elected officials on Twitter. ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ their pages on Facebook.
  • Tweet about our health policy issues, tagging the appropriate legislators by using the @ sign and their Twitter handle. For example: I’m from Pennsylvania, so I’d tag my U.S. Senators by including @SenBobCasey & @SenToomey in my tweet.
  • If they allow it, you can post about our issues directly on the Facebook pages of elected officials. Frequently, that feature is disabled but you are able to comment on their posts. According to #SocialCongress, Congressional offices typically monitor those comments for a limited period of time. Your best bet is to comment within the first 24 hours after a post.
  • Rally your friends and family members to tweet, post or comment about an issue on a single ‘day of action’. CMF’s survey data shows just 30 or fewer comments can be enough to make a legislative office pay attention.
  • Be sure to use the campaign hashtag if one has been created by your advocacy staff partners. The #hashtag allows all the relevant posts to be woven together to tell our story, and makes your post searchable by others interested in the issue.    

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Swimming Upstream for Kid's Health

I was on the Oyster River Otters swim team when I was a kid. I was pretty slow and seemingly always cold.  I was so skinny that I sank and did not have very many muscles—but I loved it (except the time I was disqualified because the Mt. Washington ferry’s wake pushed me into an adjoining lane). My sister was an amazing swimmer, coming in 2nd in practically every race to a girl who became an Olympian. At the time it was annoying, but now it is a badge of honor.

So, last weekend while I was at the gym, I stopped by the swim meet to watch the action. It looked and felt the same as it did in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s. The parents were still in the stands reading the New York Times and chatting while waiting for hours for their kiddo to swim 3 races. Kids giggled, wrote their races on their hands, and fought with too-tight swim caps.

I felt a bit nostalgic and could not help but smile. I told my daughter about her Aunt’s swimming prowess. Then, however, I saw the snack bar that had been set up by the boosters. Sadly, despite everything we know about childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the food had not changed either.  I remember eating those caramel squares before races to “get energy” but I hoped we had moved beyond that. Donuts, potato chips, cookies and muffins dominated the offerings.  There were a few healthier options, but they were greatly outnumbered. 

We need to change the culture of food. Kids don’t need to be “rewarded” for exercising by filling themselves up with sugar, fat, sodium and calorie laden options. It is not good for them and sets them up for bad habits that could lead to heart disease later in life.

I hope you keep this in mind if you are a booster, or the parent of an athlete. I know that changing the booster culture may feel like swimming upstream, but our kids will thank us later when they have life-long healthy habits.

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Making Connections for Families with CCHD

It was a typical fall day in Maine. It rained, it cleared, it was windy, it was beautiful. However, for the close to 100 Mainers gathered at the Kennebec Valley YMCA, the day was not typical. Sure, there was cider, healthy snacks and pumpkins (pretty typical fall fare in Maine) but the invitee list was not your typical Mainers. It was a bunch of little heroes.

The American Heart Association in Maine hosted our inaugural Little Heart Hero event. This event has been held successfully in other states and we wanted to see if it would fly here. The purpose of the event is to connect families whose children have CCHD.  We were overwhelmed by its success. There was crafts, running, basketball, Ticker, hula hoops, a few speeches, laughter and general chaos. The highlight was awesome music by Maine country music musician Mark Gentle (check out his video https://youtu.be/J51p3dVi0jA) about his son with CCHD.

We were also able to highlight two legislative victories and the legislators who made them happen. Rep. Henry Beck thanked his constituents, Megan Allen and Liz Roy, for their tireless efforts to bring pulse oximetry testing to all Maine hospitals and Rep. Matt Pouliot touted the fantastic new law that requires all high schools teach Hands-Only CPR. We were so happy they could attend.

We hope to host this event each year and incorporate more parent-specific networking activities. If you’d like to help plan, please email me: becky.smith@heart.org.

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It Does Not Take a Super Sleuth...

We don’t need Nancy Drew to solve this crime.

My daughter was Nancy Drew for Halloween. She loves using her notebook and magnifying glass to solve mysteries that a 1st grader understands (Who left their soccer medal at our house? What shelf at Hannaford is missing its unit price label?).

However, even without her magnifying glass, she is smart enough to figure out that Maine stands to gain if we accept the federal dollars set aside to provide health coverage to the almost 70,000 Maine people, the majority of whom work, who fall into the coverage gap.

These folks work in low paying jobs (that we all benefit from) and make less than $16,150/year for a single person or $27,311 for a family of three. The Affordable Care Act was designed to cover these folks with Medicaid, or in Maine, MaineCare. Unfortunately, our state has opted not to extend coverage to those least able to afford it. They, unlike many of us, are not able to qualify for subsidized insurance—they are just too poor.

In this, we are sitting alone in the Northeast. All of our neighbors have accepted this federal money. They understand that since the Feds are paying 100% of the cost for this year (through 12/31/2016) and then an adjusted rate that never goes below 90% (by 2020) it is too good to pass up.

So, the only reason to deny 70,000 Mainers the health care is: politics. People will die, heart disease will go undiagnosed and Maine will lose money.

It seems completely illogical because it is.

Nancy Drew would not approve.

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Field trips are not just for kids

Last week, on a typical Maine September day (sun, hot, cold, breezy, rain), I took a field trip. My daughter’s class went to Pineland Farm for a field trip the same day, but I was not jealous. My American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network colleague and her lobbyist spent the day at Ricker Hill Farm visiting Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake in Turner. Ricker Hill Farm has been in his family since before Maine was a state. It was amazing and I am definitely going back.

We went on a tour of the processing plant, the cold storage, the cider press, and the hard cider tasting room. We even picked apples. It was so much fun and very informative. If you live anywhere near Turner, you should head out there. They do school tours too. They have a petting zoo for the kiddos as well.

We were there to discuss Rep. Timberlake’s concerns about how the state is spending our share of the proceeds from the lawsuit against the tobacco industry (the Fund for a Healthy Maine).  Maine gets about $50 million a year from the tobacco industry due to the cost of smoking to Maine taxpayers. Rep. Timberlake shares our vision that the intent of this money is to decrease tobacco use and preventative chronic disease in Maine.  He knows that tobacco and obesity are the #1 and #2 killers in Maine and wants to make sure we are doing all we can to solve the problem.

 We gave him the history and background on the Fund for a Healthy Maine and listened to his concerns. 

 As we drove back to our offices, we decided that this was the most fun we had ever had on a legislative visit. We can’t wait to go back.

 Becky.smith@heart.org

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Oh when the Saints come marching in

Most of us know the chorus to this song made famous Louis Armstrong, but until this week, I had never focused on the other verses. I decided to look them up after hearing the song for the 15th time on my recent trip to New Orleans.

The lyrics are obviously written from a religious point of view, but they can also be heard through an advocacy lens. Especially this week.  It seems that Mr. Armstrong was singing the song for the American Heart Association Advocacy team. As we took our riverboat cruises and wandered the streets of post-Katrina NOLA it seemed every musician played their rendition of the traditional NOLA song. 

We were in (smoke free!) NOLA for some advocacy and media training and to learn more about the American Heart Association/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaboration called Voices for Healthy Kids. This exciting initiative is providing the resources to really try to impact childhood obesity through policy change. The exciting research and innovative policy changes from VHK are already making a difference across the country and I am excited to bring what I learned back home. Look for more from me in the coming months. If you would like to get involved in our initiatives to decrease cardiovascular disease through improved nutrition and physical activity, please reach out to me. 

And as they say:

When we all have (healthy) food to eat

When we all have (healthy) food to eat

O Lord, I want to be in that number

When the Saints go marching in

PS:   In honor of the lunar eclipse that started the week:   

When the moon turns red with blood

When the moon turns red with blood

O Lord, I want to be in that number

When the Saints go marching in

Becky.smith@heart.org 

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