Each February, American Heart Month brings awareness to an important and often overlooked crisis: heart health, heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the U.S., according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Another eye-opening statistic? Every year, heart disease is responsible for one of every four deaths nationwide.
Heart attacks can happen to almost anyone — no matter age, gender, diet or fitness level. This is something that some celebrities — including Bob Harper Opens a New Window. , Kevin Smith Opens a New Window. , Susan Lucci and Rosie O’Donnell Opens a New Window. — know all too well. But while those stars were unfortunate enough to have a major cardiovascular event (whether a heart attack or emergency heart surgery to prevent cardiac arrest), they were also lucky enough to survive. Now, they’re using their Hollywood platforms to help spread awareness with inspirational stories, real talk about symptoms and health advice.
The good news about heart disease is that you can take action to help lower your odds of developing it. Besides maintaining cholesterol levels and getting screenings to check for blockages in arteries, these actions mainly involve general wellness: tweaking your diet to add healthier foods starting at breakfast Opens a New Window. , getting your blood pumping by fitting more exercise and movement Opens a New Window. into your day and managing stress levels Opens a New Window. .
The American Heart Association Opens a New Window. offers easy tips for small things you can do every day to help lower your risk of heart disease and strokes. Among their best pieces of advice: Walk at least 20 minutes a day, drink at least one cup of coffee a week, make sure you get plenty of fiber (read: fruit and vegetables) in your diet, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night and try to lower stress levels (fun fact: according to the org, hugging helps!).
Below, find out what celebrities have survived heart attacks and read about their efforts to help fight for the health of your ticker.
In February 2017 at age 51, the trainer best known for his work on The Biggest Loser suffered what he later told Us was called a “‘widow maker.’ The kind of heart attack I had was just like, boom. Lights out.” Harper, who said his emergency event was mostly caused by a genetic condition, admitted that he was “confused” by his heart attack since he was in such good shape. After the ordeal, he launched Survivors Have Heart Opens a New Window. , an organization that helps survivors recover emotionally.
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After suffering a massive heart attack at age 47 in February 2018, the Mallrats director has gone on a journey of health and self-discovery. Smith, who was overweight at the time, focused on dropping pounds. “I started at 256, and I’m 198. So what is that, 58 at this point?” the WW ambassador revealed to Us in February 2019. “I honestly never thought I’d get to even 200, so getting under it is crazy town.” But it’s all about well-being for him. “I just want to stress to those out there who care, it was never about dropping the weight. I wasn’t sitting there like ‘I wanna look good!’” he continued. “It was about ‘Get this out of your system.’”
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In the fall of 2018, the soap opera star reluctantly went to the hospital after experiencing chest pain that she nearly ignored. Once she was there, doctors found two blocked arteries and Lucci, then 71, underwent emergency surgery. “For me it’s DNA,” she told Us at the February 2019 American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection fashion show in NYC. “My dad had calcium blockage in his arteries when he was 49, but my dad was a smoker so I never made the connection that I might have the same thing because I’m not a smoker at all.”
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The star of Frasier was rushed to the hospital in June 2008 after chest pain struck that felt “like somebody was actually trying to tear my chest apart with, like, the jaws of life,” he once said. At the time, the actor was 53 and paddleboarding with his then-wife Camille Grammer in Hawaii. At the hospital, doctors discovered he had had a heart attack. Four years later, he called it “a good event in my life,” explaining to Oprah Winfrey, “It was the physical manifestation of whatever lesson was being taught to me, which was you better fix [your life] now. It took me another couple years, but I did get it. And it was time I thought I had to change a few patterns.”
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The comedian suffered a heart attack at age 50 in August 2012 — and unknowingly saved her own life by taking aspirin, a blood thinner. The next week, she encouraged other women not to ignore symptoms in a post on her blog. Though she looked up the symptoms of women’s heart attacks and “had many of them,” including nausea, clammy skin and pain, she wrote, “I thought naaaa” and didn’t call 911. When she finally went to a cardiologist the next day, an EKG found that her LAD (left anterior descending artery) “was 99% blocked” and she immediately had surgery to put in a stent. “Know the symptoms ladies,” she wrote. “Listen to the voice inside.”
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