Connecting with others is good for your heart

If you worry that you or someone you love will get heart disease or even have a heart attack, it’s understandable.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work, or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? Research shows we are more successful at meeting our health goals when we join forces with others. Feeling connected with others and having positive,

close relationships benefit overall health, including blood pressure and weight.

Northwest Colorado Health’s CHARLAR program offers that social support, combined with health education, for Latinos in our community. CHARLAR participants learn, build skills, and improve health behaviors to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Even more important, the program offers a shared learning environment where community members support one another in setting goals around better nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle changes.

“It helps to know there’s a group to share and learn, and makes me feel that we are not alone here,” said Rafaela Castro, a recent graduate from the CHARLAR program. “We need to be conscious about what to improve and change the habits that we grew up with. You may not be going to execute all that you’ve learned at once. But now you have the information, so you’re going to start attacking a little bit at a time.”

According to Erick Ocampo, Community Health Educator with Northwest Colorado Health, the CHARLAR classes are impactful because they also focus on mental health aspects, such as managing stress. “A big part of our class is opening up and sharing our challenges and experiences. We may not all have the same background, but coming from different cultures, the language barriers – those challenges affect our mental health. We are building a community to support each other, while also making steps to improve our overall health.”

Here are a few simple ways to improve your heart health, and connect with those around you:

  • Move More: Ask a colleague to walk with you on a regular basis, have a dance party with your kids, and make your social time with family and friends focused on fun activities that get you off the couch.
  • Aim for a healthy weight: If you’re overweight, even a small weight loss of 5-10 percent helps your health. Join a weight loss program with a friend, or find online communities to connect with others working on healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Eat healthy, together: A diet that is low in sodium and saturated fat is key to heart disease prevention. If you go out to eat, order a salad instead of fries. Bring a salad or veggie dish to your next work potluck. Studies suggest that we tend to eat like our friends and family – your healthy choices may inspire those around you.
  • Manage stress and improve sleep: Stress and lack of sleep can contribute to high blood pressure and other heart risks. Join with a friend or family member to do a relaxing activity every day, like walking, yoga or meditation. Remind each other to turn off the screen and stick to a regular bedtime. Talk to a qualified mental health provider or someone else you trust to help manage stress.

The CHARLAR program is held periodically in Routt and Moffat counties. For more information, contact Erick Ocampo in Steamboat Springs, 970-819-5963 or Martha Duarte in Craig, 970-870-4117.

In addition to CHARLAR, Northwest Colorado Health offers free cardiovascular screenings, community health education, and primary care with integrated behavioral health support for anyone who needs it. To learn more about how we can support your heart health, visit

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