Small Changes Reap Big Rewards in Go Red Heart Makeover
MADISON - For 28-year-old Amanda, it's simple things like choosing baked instead of fried fish at a restaurant, or finding fun ways to exercise – like taking Zumba, an aerobic dance class.
For Kathy, it's remembering that half of your dinner plate should be filled with vegetables, with the other half an even split between protein and carbohydrates.
For Maria, a 37-year-old mother of seven boys who also works full-time, it's doing more planning ahead for family meals, instead of McDonald's Mondays, Taco Bell Tuesdays and pizza Wednesdays.
They're all relatively small changes, but with potentially life-saving results. And after taking on the challenge of the 12-week Go Red For Women Heart Makeover, all three of these women are pledging to make sure these small changes become permanent ways of life.
"To me, it was just amazing what little changes you can make in your life over 12 weeks, and what a big difference it can make," said Amanda Frigge Ruplinger, one of three Madison-area women selected to participate in the heart makeover.
"Becoming a Better You"
At the end of their 12-week journey, all three women spoke about their trials and triumphs at the Madison Go Red For Women luncheon, held on April 15 at the Monona Terrace Community Center in Madison. And all three seemed to embody the luncheon's theme: "Becoming a Better You."
"I am so proud of what I've accomplished in the last 12 weeks," said Kathy Waters, whose blood pressure dropped 20 points over the course of the makeover. As a result, her physician took her off one of her blood pressure medications.
But it wasn't easy. All three women blogged about their heart makeover experience and chronicled their struggles with food and exercise in both words and video.
In a video clip in her first makeover blog posting, an out-of-breath Kathy looked into the camera while walking on a treadmill and said: "OK, this is my first blog. It's not pretty, working out. It's been a week. The cardiologist tells me that sometime I'm gonna really like this. So far, it's a lot of work – and a lot of sweat."
But Kathy, who turned 50 during the course of the makeover, stuck with it – and has lost three and a half inches from her waistline.
"My advice would be to really start with small steps," Kathy says. "Any exercise is better than nothing at all – so start small, make sure that you can accomplish that, and then build from there."
Taking Small Steps to Heart Health
Over the course of the 12 weeks, the women met several times with UW Health exercise physiologist and Preventive Cardiology Clinic manager Vonda Shaw and Gail Underbakke, nutrition coordinator for the preventive cardiology program. UW Health is the exclusive Madison-area sponsor for Go Red For Women.
"So much of our work was giving them simple tools, like wearing a pedometer to make sure they're getting in enough walking," Shaw said. "But more than that, it's really about a philosophy that says, 'I matter. What are simple things I can do to take care of myself?'"
When asked if she's proud of the women for how far they've come, Shaw gave a glowing evaluation: "They rock. They are just awesome. For me, it has been a true privilege to work with them and be part of this wonderful change in their lives. They inspire me."
"I'm very proud. They're wonderful women who face the same ordinary, everyday challenges we all do, and they worked hard and found ways to overcome them," Underbakke said.
Learning How to Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
All three of the makeover challengers admitted to poor eating habits at the start of the 12-week program. Underbakke's job was to teach them new ways to shop for and prepare healthy foods.
In March, Underbakke joined all three women at Kathy's home to cook a heart-healthy meal together, consisting of pork tenderloin, four-grain rice pilaf, roasted asparagus and blueberry cobbler with whole grain topping. View the recipes and watch the video
The women all agreed that focusing on food labels and nutritional information was eye-opening.
"It's just amazing that just about everything that's processed – so, anything that comes in a box or a can – is loaded with sodium," Amanda said.
In addition to working with an exercise physiologist and nutritionist, the women also had periodic check-ins with UW Health cardiologists James Stein, MD, and Heather Johnson, MD. These visits included several tests to assess the women's heart disease risk, such as blood pressure, fasting glucose, cholesterol, waist circumference, body mass index and a mini-stress test.
Most Heart Attacks Are Preventable
According to Dr. Johnson, about 80 percent of heart attacks are preventable. So even though you can't do anything about some risk factors – such as family history, age and race – you can make changes to reduce other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.
"Unfortunately, it's common for women to have difficulty finding time to incorporate physical activity," Dr. Johnson said, adding that she recommends 30 minutes of exercise per day – any way you can get it – whether it's 30 minutes all at once or three 10-minute spurts.
As a mother of seven boys, Maria Torres found incorporating exercise into her daily routine to be one of her biggest challenges. But while juggling a full-time job with caring for seven kids – one of whom was born with a congenital heart defect – Maria has strived to remain consistent, squeezing in at least 15 minutes of exercise per day.
Maria says it's unfortunate how easily women get lost in everyday life, taking care of their families and doing their jobs, and not stopping to take a look at their own well-being.
"Ask yourself, if you had a heart attack, would all that matter? Would any of that matter?" Maria said.
A Mother's Special Motivation
At the Go Red luncheon, Maria’s two-year-old son Joeshua made a guest appearance, sitting on his mother's lap while she explained what motivates her to get healthy – and stay healthy.
"So I can be there for my kids and help save Joeshua's life," Maria said. Joeshua was born with a congenital heart defect that Maria describes as "basically a backwards heart," as well as ventricular septal defect (VSD), a hole in the heart.
"I don't know if my son will be here tomorrow. I don't know if his heart is going to give out at any moment," Maria said while Joeshua, clad in a navy blue vest and tie, peered through his long, curly dark hair at the luncheon audience, playfully swinging his legs while his mother spoke.
Maria urged luncheon participants to make a donation to the American Heart Association to support life-saving research for Joeshua's condition and other heart conditions that affect both women and men.
Groundbreaking Heart Research at UW
The importance of research was also stressed by luncheon co-chair Donna Katen-Bahensky, president and chief executive officer of UW Hospital and Clinics.
Katen-Bahensky, who served in the last year as chair of the Midwest Affiliate American Heart Association, said she's proud of the groundbreaking cardiac cell regeneration research that's happening here at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Donations to the American Heart Association and its Go Red For Women initiative help support these types of life-saving research, Katen-Bahensky said.
"Go Red For Women is about more than just wearing red, or wearing the red dress pin," Katen-Bahensky said. "It's a nationwide movement that has a place right here in Madison. And it's taught us to celebrate the energy, the passion and the power we have as women – and men – to band together and wipe out heart disease."
Date Published: 04/16/2010