Red Steps Challenge: A Campaign to Prevent Heart Failure

Red heart in woman and man hands, on green background

Editor’s note: This post was written by Clyde W. Yancy, MD, MSc, MACC, FAHA, MACP, FHFSA. Dr. Yancy is a past president of the American Heart Association, and is a professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine

With the fantastic help of Queen Latifah, the American Heart Association’s Rise Above Heart Failure “Red Steps Challenge” was launched on The Dr. Oz Show and ushered into our homes by a crimson sea of socks. What gives?

This campaign is all about heart failure. Heart failure is a condition where the heart is no longer working properly. Think of it as an engine that once had 250 horsepower but now has only 50 horsepower to move the same size car. That’s heart failure.

Watch: Queen Latifah Talks About Heart Failure

It affects six million Americans and will strike one in five over the age of 40. Yes, that could include you and the people you know and love. If diagnosed late or left untreated, the consequences are not good. And once diagnosed, complacency can also lead to poor outcomes. The symptoms of constant fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling, palpitations, and episodes of blackouts are not fun. But the big news is that all of us can rise above heart failure.

When the condition happens, make certain the diagnosis is correct then go to work. You’ll need a team — you, a few close family members and/or friends you trust, your doctor, and a nurse. Treatment begins with lifestyle changes. All the stuff you always hear about is legit: heart-healthy diet, no smoking, easy on the alcohol, AVOID SALT, and stay active. We have many treatment strategies available today, so count on your team to put together the plan that will work best for you. The good news is really good; heart failure is treatable and the majority of those with this condition improve — some quite a bit. We can take the failure out of heart failure.

Watch: What to Eat to Quit Your Salt Addiction

The best news, though, is prevention. Heart failure is preventable. Most, but not all, heart failure is related to hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and prior heart attacks. The message is again familiar. When you are getting your blood pressure checked, you are also preventing heart failure. Same for losing weight and controlling diabetes.

I am an academic heart doctor. That means I research, teach, govern, and practice heart failure care. I’ve been at this over 25 years; in my early years Dr. Oz and I were colleagues and we are still friends. We had little to work with and routinely saw poor outcomes. But today, it’s a new ballgame. More of everything including medicines, devices, surgeries, specialists, and, most importantly, hope. Now with Queen Latifah, her lovely mom, and Dr. Oz all over this, our day has arrived — we can rise above HF.

Put on the red socks. Share pictures of your red socks on our website. Mine are already up! Submit your number of steps, too. We are aiming for six million steps for the nearly six million people living with HF.

For more info, check out or follow #riseaboveHF.