For Mike Shields, my 64-year old brother, every day is a blessing. He’s living proof that changing your lifestyle will save your life.

The South Dakota Department of Health wants us all stop being couch potatoes and get healthy. The DOH is joining the Million Hearts initiative by encouraging people to take the online pledge to live longer, healthier lives.

Million Hearts is aimed at preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017 by empowering people across the nation to make simple, healthy choices such as quitting smoking, reducing sodium and trans fat consumption.  The campaign also stresses the monitoring and management of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. That seems like so much work!

When you’re life is on the line, it’s not that difficult. Mike had a stroke two months ago. Since then, he’s had to re-learn how to fry an egg, make a sandwich and do simple math problems.  He’s also lost 40 pounds, walks on a treadmill every day and has healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

He’s lucky to be alive. He’s a perfect example that simple lifestyle changes can be done. It just takes determination.

“We’re excited for what Million Hearts can do for the overall health of South Dakota. By taking the Million Hearts pledge, people have the opportunity to turn awareness into positive action to improve their health,” said Linda Ahrendt administrator for the Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the department.

May is national stroke awareness month. Almost 800,000 stokes occur in the U.S. each year, yet most people cannot identify stroke warning signs or risk factors. Some studies indicate that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Nationally, cardiovascular disease costs business and communities over $444 billion annually in lost productivity and health care expenses.

If you’re sedentary, overweight, have high blood pressure and diabetes you’re at risk.