Twelve local women have learned how to eat better and exercise smarter after being selected for a 12-week heart-healthy-makeover challenge sponsored by the American Heart Association.
One of them, Darla Mann, didn’t know until she started the challenge a few months ago that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death of women in the United States, claiming more lives than the next four causes combined. Along with that knowledge came the realization that she was putting herself at risk for cardiovascular disease.
The Go Red for Women BetterU Makeover Challenge, which finished up recently, went for 12 weeks and combined the association’s online nutrition and fitness program with health screenings, personalized conditioning and nutritional planning by local experts and a local gym.
“Most of us know that getting exercise and eating right is important,” said Kathy Elston, a physical therapist at Palmer Physical Therapy for Women. It provided the expertise on physical activity. “Getting it done is a whole different thing.”
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Elston and others on the staff showed the women how to use stretch bands (which can easily be packed for on-the-go exercise), how to walk smarter at a local park (by incorporating lunges and using a bench for stretches) and how to use a therapy ball for better-quality core conditioning.
Each woman in the makeover had different reasons for answering a March “casting call” for the challenge, but all had the common goal of wanting to live healthier. Knowing that one of every three women dies of heart disease, Mann and three other challenge participants share their stories, hoping other women will make better health choices too.
Doing it for the baby
For Katie Brown, 25, the awareness of bad heart health hit home at an early age.
When she was 11, her 40-year-old father had a heart attack, leaving him permanently disabled and her mom, four siblings and herself to run the family’s orchard business that they were just developing.
After becoming a first-time mother in August and having her father suffer another heart attack shortly after that, Brown realized she needed to be healthier not only for herself but for her daughter, Ella Jane.
“What’s in my genes is in her genes, and I need to stop this,” Brown said. Her father, Scott Beck, has had six bypasses and lost functioning in a quarter of his heart.
“My baby has really motivated me. I need to show her how to eat, how to exercise, and I want to be sure I’m living healthy from now on.”
The American Heart Association recommends that people have a heart-attack risk assessment if one of their family members had heart disease at a young age — a mother or sister before age 65 or a father or brother before age 55.
Even though she grew up on a produce farm, Brown said her family ate a lot of convenience and packaged food because of their hectic schedules. After a Go Red session on reading nutrition labels, she had what she calls “an intervention with her pantry” and then spent four hours on her next grocery-shopping trip, poring over labels.
During a recent lunch at her mother’s, she showed other family members how small changes could make a big difference in their health. Whole-grain breads were used for sandwiches and fresh fruit was served for dessert.
Brown is a Realtor and used to let the excuse of work get in the way of exercising. But not now. When taking Ella Jane for walks in her stroller, Brown multitasks and does business calls.
Learning to exercise
Tired of being overweight and having a hard time keeping up with an active 6-year-old daughter, Mann was already trying to make changes to her life when she was chosen from among 50 applicants for the challenge.
“Being morbidly obese like I was, I was to the point I needed to get a handle on it because it was not going to get easier or better,” Mann said. “I feel lucky that I didn’t already have any health conditions because of my weight, but I know I was on the road for that to happen.”
She’d started eating better before the challenge, but learning how to exercise was harder. A paralyzed right arm — a result of being hit by a car in her parents’ driveway at age 3 — created challenges.
As a result of the makeover, she’s learned about adapting exercises. She’s discovered that water workouts are a great way to burn calories and are much easier on the joints. During a recent trip, she used a hotel pool to exercise.
She’s lost 41 pounds, with a goal of losing 140.
“But now I’m not looking at it as I have to lose 140 pounds. I’m going by small increments and just trying to get to 45 pounds now.”
No more excuses
Devon Packard, 42, has learned to turn what were excuses for not having time to exercise — having seven kids ages 2 to 20 and a full-time job — into a motivator.
The Derby resident said it’s because she has a large family and a job that she needs to be in better shape.
“It’s the same coin, just a different side,” she said.
For her, it’s a family issue, too: Her husband was diagnosed with diabetes last year and she was diagnosed with high blood pressure six months ago. Both conditions increase one’s risks for heart disease.
Within weeks of starting the challenge, she decreased her cholesterol levels. She’s lost 30 pounds and has gone from a size 22 to a 16, and her BMI has moved down slightly as well.
Packard is applying the tools she’s learned to her whole family — they eat better and often exercise together at the Derby Recreation Center.
A key piece of advice she’s learned during the challenge — from cardiologist Husam Bakdash — is “if you don’t need it, don’t eat it.”
Wichita substitute teacher Marva Grayson, 54, has had high cholesterol — another risk for heart disease — all her adult life. Through the challenge she’s learned how to read labels so that she’s eating the right foods to control the cholesterol.
From a nutritionist, she learned about the 3-3-30 rule for healthy eating: Healthier food choices are those that contain 3 or less grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber and 300 or less grams of sodium. She’s increased her intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower triglyceride levels.
From the physical therapists at Palmer Physical Therapy, she learned that the more effective way to burn calories and lower the risk of injury is to do weight training before cardio activities.