Get hundreds of women in a room with a common mission, and you are almost guaranteed to see something good come out of it.
The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women dinner has become that kind of inspirational gathering. Now in its fifth year, the event has developed into a major fundraiser — and, beyond that, into a catalyst for lifestyle changes.
Go Red was held recently at West Side Ballroom in Plattsburgh, where a banquet room full of red-clad women — and a smattering of men — enjoyed a heart-healthy dinner: wheat rolls with olive oil and balsamic dip; salads with low-fat dressing; chicken, salmon or vegetable lasagna with root vegetables; and mini mousse desserts.
The meal was part of the message: A healthy lifestyle can be enjoyable. The food was accompanied by speakers who shared how heart disease had changed their lives. Their stories were personal and moving.
The featured speaker, Anne Buckley of Queensbury, talked about how she needed to be her own advocate when doctors turned her down for the heart transplant she needed at age 30. She used the knowledge she gained through her own research and her persuasion skills to convince the doctor that she should get the transplant. She is alive today because of her refusal to succumb to setbacks.
Her story earned her a standing ovation — and a few tears. It certainly must have inspired many women to leave the dinner feeling that if Buckley could persevere against the kinds of odds she faced, they could have the personal strength to enact needed changes in their own lives.
And it is an undeniable fact of American society that women are the traditional motivators for family lifestyle issues. That is not to say that is how it works in every family, but certainly women have a leading role, in many cases, in family diet and exercise changes.
So motivating hundreds of women to fight the factors that lead to heart disease can have an impact far beyond those in actual attendance. That is what makes Go Red for Women an effective movement. The Heart Association says that since the effort started in 2004, more than 1.6 million women nationally have enrolled and that 96 percent of them have taken steps to improve their health.
The challenge in any attempt at a healthier way of life is to sustain it over time. Everyone is inspired right after hearing about how heart disease almost took away lives. But a few months later?
The best approach is to set small, reachable goals and to get the whole family involved. Try to eat healthy five days this week, say, then reward yourself with a little splurge on the weekend.
For a long-range goal, maybe the women who gathered for Go Red could set their sights on the Plattsburgh Heart Walk on Oct. 5. It would be cause for celebration to look back at how a dinner in February changed their lives for the better.