Heart health awareness came to Lauren Barrett-Kearley's family the hard way, and changed the course of their lives.

Her maternal great-grandfather died of a heart attack in 1965 at age 52. That inspired her mother, Coletta Barrett, to become involved with the American Heart Association, eventually becoming its area chairwoman.

Because of her mother’s work with the AHA, Barrett-Kearley got an early introduction to the topic.

“Even as a kid, I was (taken) to Lafayette for meetings where I would bring my coloring books and hide out under the tables,” she said. “It was kind of a way of life.”

So much so that the 34-year-old created an organization, PULSE BR, to involve younger people in heart health.

The organization for Baton Rouge-area professionals 40 and younger promotes heart health through group activities focused on fitness and nutrition. Started in 2016, it provides volunteer opportunities and tries to cultivate future AHA leaders while promoting awareness of how to prevent heart disease.

“Most people don’t understand that heart disease is 80 percent preventable if we just exercise properly and manage our blood pressure and our cholesterol,” said Chelsea Moreau, Go Red for Women director for the Heart Association. “There’s actually seven preventable factors to heart disease, and that’s what Lauren and the PULSE group really focus on. It does impact all ages.

“Most people don’t realize how heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all Americans. It kills more than all forms of cancer combined," added the 27-year-old Moreau. "How can we be more aware?”

PULSE BR holds quarterly social and networking activities and the annual “Walk the Rowe for Heart” event at the Perkins Rowe that involves the mixed-use development’s retail outlets and encourages people to use the mile-long walking path there.

One event, a speed networking outing, allowed participants to only spend three minutes together before moving on. The time limit served as a reminder that one in three people will have or die from heart disease, Barrett-Kearley said.

“So, we’re incorporating our mission to bring awareness to heart disease, but we’re also making it fun,” she said.

PULSE BR also plugs in to AHA events such as the March 30 Heart Walk and lobbying activities at the Legislature and Capitol. Members canvassed in support of the successful effort to get the Metro Council to outlaw smoking in the parish’s bars and casinos. And, of course, the organization supports AHA’s efforts to raise money for medical research.

“It only shows that we need to push further into the future,” Moreau said. “What’s the next big scientific breakthrough that’s going to allow people that gift of time with their loved-ones?”

Barrett-Kearley noted many advancements in heart health and treatment have been made since her great grandfather died in 1965.

When her grandfather, Robert Barrett Sr., experienced heart trouble in 1994, he had a successful triple bypass operation.

“I credit his survival to the many advancements that have taken place since 1965 in the realm of heart care, heart disease prevention and treatment,” said Barrett-Kearley. “Because of that, I got 20 more years with my grandfather. ... I was one of the lucky ones. The message for me is, it works. Fundraising efforts in medical research, scientific research, having those medical breakthroughs, it works. I’m a product of that.”

For information on PULSE BR or AHA, email chelsea.moreau@heart.org.

7 ways to improve your heart health

American Heart Association tips to improve your heart health:

1. Manage blood pressure — High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer. 

2. Control cholesterol — High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. Controlling your cholesterol gives your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages.

3. Reduce blood sugar — Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.

4. Get active — Daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.

5. Eat better — When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy.

6. Lose weight — When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. Active living can also help lower your blood pressure.

7. Stop smoking — Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.

Follow George Morris on Twitter, @GWMorris.