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Iowa's AHA Goes All Out for Healthy Lifestyles

The American Heart Association of Iowa is moving away from its traditional focus on heart disease, to instead encourage a vital lifestyle for overall improved health. (mabelamber/Pixabay)
The American Heart Association of Iowa is moving away from its traditional focus on heart disease, to instead encourage a vital lifestyle for overall improved health. (mabelamber/Pixabay)
December 21, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa – When it comes to taking care of their health, research shows Iowans have cut down on smoking and improved their diets, but many still don't get enough exercise to live the longest, healthiest lives. To encourage overall health improvement among the state's residents, the American Heart Association of Iowa is changing its mission, from focusing primarily on cardiovascular issues to a more holistic approach.

Executive Director Kayla Kovarna says the organization's new mission is to be a "relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives."

"This is the first time ever in our history that we have not called out cardiovascular diseases, which includes stroke, in our actual mission statement. And really, what we're looking at is shifting gears and focusing on health improvement," says Kovarna.

Kovarna believes Iowa communities could benefit significantly if more people had better access to a wider variety of exercise options, and more nutritious food choices – especially in areas of Des Moines, where there are several so-called "food deserts."

Des Moines recently implemented "Move DSM" - the first citywide, multi-modal vision for transportation. State AHA Government Relations Director Stacy Frelund hopes it will be a model for other communities to make biking and walking easier and more accessible.

"A big part of this is safety, and really, some of that's even lighting in certain areas, so that if kids are out and walking to friends' houses or parks, that they can easily get there with the walkways and feel a lot more safe," says Frelund.

Kovarna says getting kids and adults exercising more is critical, based on a new report that showed Iowa is now one of the top three states in the nation for a significant increase in obesity – 35 percent over the past 12 years.

"So here in Iowa, blood pressure is one that is definitely a health-risk factor that pops up; childhood obesity is another one. Those are big ones, that we really need to take a look at to move the needle," says Kovarna.

Iowa was the only state in the top seven with obesity gains not located in the southern half of the U.S..

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA