Northwest Colorado Health: Connecting with others is good for your heart |

Northwest Colorado Health: Connecting with others is good for your heart

Jaclyn McDonald/For Craig Press
Martha Duarte, Community Health Educator, with recent CHARLAR graduates. Northwest Colorado Health’s CHARLAR program helps Latinos learn, build skills, and improve health behaviors to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Courtesy Photo

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.

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.

“This program helps a lot to educate us on what is better for us, and how to be a better person each day,” said Mayola Cruz, a recent graduate from the CHARLAR program. “There is always something new to learn, like different ways to fight stress.”

According to Martha Duarte, 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,” she said. “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

Jaclyn McDonald is marketing coordinator at Northwest Colorado Health. She can be reached at or 970-871-7642.

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