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As a mother of three children, ages eight months, three, and 10, I have two simple messages for women who are struggling to make health changes: No more guilt. No more excuses.

My wake-up call came a few years ago, after a physical when my doctor warned me that I needed to make changes if I wanted to live long enough to see my children grow and meet my grandchildren. Getting healthier became even more important last year after my father passed away from a heart attack.

My father died before he was able to meet my youngest child and I really struggle with that. I was passionate about this topic before because of my own health issues, and now, I am on a mission to help stop heart disease.

Read Related: Latina & Overweight? What’s Your Risk for High Blood Pressure?

My journey to better health began after my second child was born in 2010. I was extremely overweight and battling high cholesterol. My shame about my appearance combined with my doctor’s recommendation that I take cholesterol medication made me realize it was time to change. I asked myself at that point: “Why would I take medication for something that I knew I could control with diet and exercise?”

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American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women

Making changes wasn’t easy. My 70-pound weight loss, which took more than a year, began with small steps. I started exercising a little every day and making family recipes healthier. I’m Hispanic, and I grew up eating a lot of animal products and thinking you had to fry most things to make them taste good. So when I started on my missions of healthy living, I had to completely transform the way I ate.

Little by little I added more fruits and vegetables to my diet and began cooking differently. Soon healthy living became a family affair. My husband started getting healthier too, and soon his own cholesterol and blood pressure numbers started to improve. I have incorporated more vegetables and fruits to my children’s meals and my husband and I make sure to keep them physically active.

Before my father died, I encouraged both him and my mother to transform their eating habits. Though they lived in Colombia and I live in New Jersey, I enjoyed “sharing” family meals again because we talked about the foods they were preparing each day.

Sharing what I have learned with family and friends has become a calling. I am now a certified fitness instructor, started a free fitness club at a local school one night per week, and also use social media to share heart-healthy tips with online “friends” I have never met. I’m happy to help them live healthier lives.

Become aware of your family medical history and learn your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Have a conversation with your doctor about your heart disease risk factors and about recommendations for a healthy lifestyle.

My own health is now top priority. Because what good does it do my family if I am not here in the long run to take care of them? I am taking care of me and setting an example for my kids, who now see that healthy eating and exercise are just part of our family routine.

My story is not a new story. Heart disease does not discriminate. It is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., and affects more women than men. It’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.

That’s why, as a mother and a daughter who lost her father to heart disease, I Go Red For Women. For 10 years, women have been fighting heart disease individually and together as part of the Go Red For Women movement. They have proudly worn red, and shared their survival and healthy living stories. More than 627,000 women’s lives have been saved, but the fight is far from over.

  • Heart diseases cause one in three women’s death each year.
  • Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.
  • Only 1 in 3 Hispanic women are aware that heart disease is their No. 1 killer.

Join the fight by making healthy behavior changes in your life and your family’s. Become part of the Go Red For Women movement, and show your support by wearing red to build awareness and inspire action. I’m sharing my story to help other women. Please join me in saving women’s lives by sharing your story. Visit GoRedForWomen.org.

It’s time for women to stand together in the fight for our lives!