02/09/2012 05:12 EST

Know Your Cholesterol Number: Measha Brueggergosman Speaks Up For Heart Month

Matt Dunlap

People always think they're too young to have heart attacks, but heart disease doesn't discriminate -- it can strike at any age. Measha Brueggergosman, Canadian soprano and judge on the upcoming TV show Canada's Got Talent, found that out the hard way when, at the age of 31, she underwent emergency surgery after a near death experience due to a dissected aorta in 2009.

A family history of heart disease and diabetes had compelled Brueggergosman to lose 145 pounds and undergo gastric bypass surgery around 2006. Taking up Bikram yoga helped her shed the weight, and though she seemed to be living a healthier life, she was neglecting one thing -- her cholesterol.

"I have a history of heart disease in my family and I can use genetics as an excuse, but the fact is that I simply didn't know what was going on with my blood pressure and cholesterol," Measha told The Huffington Post Canada. "Eventually your body will find a way to express itself, and unless you are able to control and be aware of what your cholesterol is, you're never going to be fully in control of your heart health."

A pain in her throat lead her to the hospital, and resulted in almost immediate open-heart surgery. The doctors warned her that her blood pressure was something she'd have to look after for the rest of her life.

To help prevent women from finding out as dramatically as she did, the soprano has teamed up with Becel, the founding sponsor of The Heart and Stoke Foundation's 'The Heart Truth' campaign, to get women motivated to get out and check their cholesterol number -- a pivotal step in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Free screening centres will be open at eight malls and in more than 200 stores across the country throughout the month.

The target for total cholesterol for otherwise healthy adults is less than 5.2. If it's found to be higher than that, it's important to discuss lifestyle changes with your doctor and even consider cholesterol-lowering medication to help regulate it. Finding out this crucial number can help to understand what's going on inside your body and which treatments you should seek.

"The formula is simple, but the execution is difficult," Measha says.

That's why she and her mother, Ann Gosman, are urging women to take back their health and do something productive about it. Ann's wakeup call came when she had to stand by her husband's bedside, who underwent a quadruple bypass a few years ago.

"Measha was spared -- 87 per cent of people who suffer through a dissected aorta die -- so if she can make a difference in women's lives across Canada, that's a real blessing," says Ann.

Don't forget to get your cholesterol number checked -- and make sure to add these foods to your diet to help you keep your heart healthy:

Photo gallery Best Foods For Your Heart See Gallery