by: Contributed photo, Peggy Fowler

I always thought only middle-aged men got heart disease. So when my own mother was diagnosed with a heart condition that she thankfully survived, I learned that heart disease accounts for more deaths than any other single cause of death in the United States. I also learned there are simple things people can do to prevent heart disease, like eating a well-balanced diet, not smoking and exercising moderately for 30 minutes at least five days a week.

Many of us are making the right choices for our health. In fact, there has been a decrease in coronary heart disease in recent years, but it's still the No. 1 killer in the country. So why are Americans still getting heart disease and having strokes? The truth is we've created a culture of physical inactivity that has led to an epidemic of obesity. Almost 65 percent of American adults are overweight or obese and their children are following in their footsteps. Think about it, our jobs today involve much less physical exertion than in the past, we're less active due to transportation and technology, and we work 164 more hours a year than 20 years ago.

As a businessperson, I'm keenly aware that this situation is having a tremendous impact on the cost of healthcare for businesses as well as our household budgets. The American Heart Association estimates the annual direct medical cost of illnesses related to physical inactivity is $76.6 billion. That's a staggering figure.

So what's the solution? Businesses can help reduce healthcare costs and increase worker productivity by investing in wellness and prevention programs that raise awareness and give people the tools and information they need to lead a healthier lifestyle. This is not a theory; it's been documented by the U.S. Department of Health that fitness programs reduce employer healthcare costs 20 to 55 percent.

As individuals, the solution is to get moving. Just 30 minutes of walking or other moderate physical activity reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, lowers blood pressure, reduces high cholesterol and controls body weight. Walking is the simplest positive change individuals can make to effectively improve their heart health.

To get us walking more, the American Heart Association has launched the START! Movement. Not only does the association provide a complete toolkit to help individuals and businesses create a culture of physical activity and wellness, it have events such as Start! Walking Day on Wednesday, April 16, and the Start! Greater Portland Heart Walk on Saturday, May 17, to bring us together in celebration of our health. It's time to get moving. It's time to take care of your heart. We hope you'll join us. You can learn more at

Peggy Fowler, PGE CEO and President, is chairwoman of the 2008 Start! Greater Portland Heart Walk and served as an American Heart Association Go Red For Women Ambassador from 2004-07. She also serves as chairwoman of the Oregon Business Council's Healthcare Taskforce.

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