For more than 10 years now, the first Friday of February has become a fashion statement. People across the country have worn red-red sweaters, red jackets, red dresses, red ties. It’s not for a professional sports team, for which they fly the color, but rather a team of professionals dedicated to raising awareness and fighting the number one killer of women today-heart disease.

Heart disease has been called the “silent killer” because it often comes with no noticeable symptoms. It’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. And although heart disease actually kills more women than men, many people still think of it as a “man’s disease.”

That is starting to change. Since that first American Heart Association National Wear Red Day, remarkable progress has been made in the fight against heart disease in women. Through research and education to healthy lifestyle changes, the numbers are looking better:

• 34 percent fewer women now die from heart disease, saving more than 300 lives every day. • More women now take ownership of their health by developing healthy lifestyles; • 37 percent are losing weight • 43 percent are checking their cholesterol and high cholesterol has declined by 18 percent • 15 percent have quit smoking • More than 50 percent exercise more • 60 percent have improved their diets • 33 percent have developed heart healthy lifestyle plans with their doctor.

Much of that success has to do with awareness the National Wear Red Day has brought about. There is still much work to be done, however. And it starts with the realization that you do have a lot of control over your own risk of heart disease. The first step in heart health is deciding to take responsibility for it. Start with something simple, such as reading food labels and avoiding things high in sodium and trans fats. Commit to walking somewhere every day-even if it’s just around the block. Add fruits or vegetables to every meal. After those become a habit, add another small step. It won’t be very long before you feel better and soon a healthier lifestyle will become second nature.

It’s important to assess your heart health. Do you know your blood pressure? What about cholesterol? Blood glucose? Once you learn what those levels are, you can work out a plan with your doctor to make improvements if necessary.

St Mary’s Medical Center is hosting a heart event later this month to help you learn about heart disease and assess your risk. It’s on Thursday, February 27, from 6-8 p.m. in the Education Center, we’ll be focusing on some important numbers - your numbers. There will also be health information and screenings (PAD, non-fasting cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and more).

I’ll be doing a short presentation on the early signs of heart attack and will answer your questions about risk and give you some simple ways you can take control of your heart’s well-being.

You’ll even be treated to light hors d’oeuvres and a fashion show. It’s a free event, but reservations are recommended. Call 816-228-3335 to make yours. Remember, even with recent successes, we’re still losing almost 1,100 women each day to heart disease. More work is crucial. Let’s get the word out, by putting the red on!

Michael Liston, MD, FACC is at the Carondelet Heart Institute, St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs.