By Amanda Grayson - Contributor

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Every month is Heart Month for Ashlie Lystad

February 8, 2018

Every February we celebrate Valentine’s Day and hearts abound – paper hearts, chocolate hearts, 24-carat gold hearts. But it’s also a special time for our actual hearts.

February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on the health of a very important organ: our heart.

In honor of American Heart Month, we sat down with Blue Cross employee Ashlie Lystad, a senior sales associate at Blue Cross, to talk about why she’s so passionate about raising awareness for heart health.

Knowing risks for heart disease matters

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease and about half of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors.

With stats like that, chances are you have been or know someone who has been affected by heart disease. And, more likely, you probably know several people who suffer from heart disease.

Heart disease hits home

Lystad is passionate about heart health and became involved with the cause ten years ago. Since then, her own family history of heart disease has unfolded.

“After my first year of doing the Heart Walk with Blue Cross, my grandma was diagnosed with heart disease. She currently has a pacemaker and not a day goes by where she complains about it, but rather embraces the fact that she is still alive and there are devices out there that allow her to continue to see her family grow. She has 12 children, 22 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren!”

And her grandmother is not the only family member tackling heart disease, “Just a few months ago, my mom was having chest pain, and so she went in to the doctor. We found out she has high blood pressure.”

It’s not just family that keeps Lystad involved in raising awareness for heart health. She has been actively involved in cause-related events like the Heart Walk, the American Heart Association’s large fundraising walk, because heart disease impacts so many lives, and not just within her family.

“I turned around, and one of my peers had had a heart attack recently. I just went to the wake of someone whose husband died from a heart attack. It’s unbelievable the amount of people who are affected by heart disease. I’m blessed to not have it, but if I can be an advocate for those who do, it makes me feel good.”

Making heart health a priority

Taking care of her heart is a top priority for Lystad.  She exercises religiously, tries to keep stress to a minimum and goes to the doctor for a physical each year. Staying active for her health even led Lystad to run in the 2016 Twin Cities Marathon. “My family, including my wonderful grandmother, was my inspiration to take on running a marathon.”

She says her annual visit to the doctor’s office for her preventive checkup is always a good reminder to stay committed to heart health awareness.

“What’s crazy is you always fill out that family history forms every year. Well, the older I get, the older my family gets, and the more I have to check off some of those condition boxes.”

Lystad says just being aware of her family history and being cognizant of the choices she makes goes a long way. Still, she emphasizes that genetics aren’t the only risk factor for heart disease. Obesity and diabetes, for example, are some others.

For the love of your heart

Lystad supports several other health-related causes including walks for diabetes and breast cancer, but raising awareness about heart disease is especially important to her.

“It’s my baby, I guess you could say, because it is something that means a lot to me and to a lot of people that I know and love.”

The American Heart Association is an excellent resource for understanding heart health and discovering how you can following in Lystad’s footsteps and advocate for heart health.

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