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Stressing less stress as reservations focus on heart health

Big Cypress heart participants in heart health awareness activities pose for a photo at the field office Feb. 26. (Beverly Bidney photo)

American Heart Month in February gave Tribal citizens opportunities to learn how to maintain a healthy heart. A variety of activities in Big Cypress, Brighton, Hollywood and Immokalee featured a combination of education, hands-on fun and rewards that can last a lifetime.

Sponsored by the Health Department, events throughout the month focused on heart health by walking, eating well, exercising and relaxing.

“We added stress reduction this year because stress is so bad for your heart,” said Suzanne Davis, Allied Health program manager. “We want to help people recognize when they are stressed and teach them how to back away from it. We deal with a lot of women, who do a lot for others and forget about themselves. We all need to make time for ourselves.”

According to information from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of all Americans, including Native Americans.

Statistics show the rate of heart attacks in women is climbing. The American Heart Association estimates about 44 million American women are affected by cardiovascular disease and 90 percent have one or more risk factors. Heart attacks and strokes kill about one woman every 80 seconds.

A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health found that Native Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than their white counterparts. Risk factors for heart disease – including high blood pressure, obesity and cigarette smoking – are more prevalent among Native Americans than whites.

Children also need to learn about heart health, so the Mega Heart made an appearance at Pemayetv Emahakv in Brighton and at the Herman L. Osceola Gym in Big Cypress. The giant inflatable heart is a fun hands-on teaching tool.

“There are four chambers in the heart; two receive blood and two send it back out. Your heart beats 100,000 times a day,” said Justin Reiswerg, of Medical Inflatables, as he took the kids through the exhibit and pointed out the important parts of the heart and their functions. “We want the students to learn how the heart works and how to keep it healthy.”

To fight heart disease through education, the Health Department brought facts, figures and fun to the reservations. New activities this year include yoga, Tai Chi and cooking classes to promote fellowship, fun and learning. Health educator Barbara Boling even brought the adult coloring craze to Brighton, where coloring intricate patterns in coloring books causes the artists to relax.

“If you blend the education with something enjoyable, the information is assimilated better,” Davis said. “Mental, physical and emotional health creates a better path to wellness.”

Seventh-graders learn about the danger of smoking from health educator Jamie Diersing outside of the Mega Heart at PECS. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Caylie Huff, Hyatt Pearce and other eighth-graders learn about the heart by walking through a larger than life version at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School March 22. Justin Reiswerg, at left, teaches about the parts and functions of the heart. (Beverly Bidney photo)

Beulah Gopher works on her stress reducing adult coloring project in Brighton Feb. 28. (Courtesy photo)
America Ramirez, Clarrisa Garza and Andrea Kuzbyt took a brisk two-mile or so walk through the Immokalee Reservation Feb. 23. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese graceful form of exercise, was a hit for these Big Cypress heart health awareness participants. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at