Beyond the Girlfriends Challenge: From 12 Weeks to Lifelong Health

Barb Meister completing her first 5K

When Barb Meister was selected to participate in UW Health's Go Red Girlfriends Challenge in 2011, she was struggling with high cholesterol, juggling three medications for it, and worried about her strong family history of heart disease. Her own father had died of a heart attack at age 54 and she did not want to follow in his footsteps. She wanted to be able to see her children graduate and go to college and herself become a grandmother someday.


Upon finishing the 12-week challenge, Barb lowered her cholesterol by 13 points and even more importantly gained the power of knowledge. But what is more impressive, is what she continues to achieve, now, three years later!


Today Barb feels better than ever – healthier, stronger, with better endurance and less stress. She is down to one cholesterol medication and has truly maintained several lifestyle changes. She reads food labels and cooks and eats with her heart health in mind. She is still grateful for the ongoing support of her husband Brian and two children, now 22 and 20. They supported her healthy meal choices and often would be the ones to suggest taking a walk together.

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She also attributes her success in lifestyle changes to her local running community. A co-worker, Sara, often invited her to join a running club at their local running shoe store. With the encouragement of her husband, she finally said yes and joined her friend.


Though her first run of two miles took 50 minutes to complete, Barb didn't give up. She is grateful for Sara's patience and support as well as the kindness of her running group. She recalls, "No one laughed when I walked through the door or judged me for being overweight. They welcomed me and treated me like a fellow runner."


She's been a runner ever since.


With spring on the horizon, Barb is looking forward to running outdoors again and encourages others to use this time to embrace their own fitness goals, whether it be a running or walking plan. She reflects, "My proudest moment was last summer, when I ran six miles in one hour – all 10 minute miles!"


To date she has participated in more than a half dozen 5K race events and has set her goal to complete a half marathon. She adds, "Once you reach a goal you want to reach further, so you set another and another and you continue build, grow stronger and go further."


By sharing her story, Barb hopes to inspire others. She shares three tips that have helped her start and maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle:

  1. "It's never too late to reverse heart disease." She credits Dr. Mary Zasadil, UW Health cardiologist and mentor during the program for empowering her with this knowledge.
  2. "Don't say you can't – because I'm proof you can!" She adds, "If you want to run there are a lot of running groups for beginners out there, usually these are through a running shoe store for a fee and they start you out run/walking. You can download free run/walk or couch to 5k programs off the internet, or you can pay a small amount to download one."
  3. "Knowledge is power!" She encourages women to visit websites like and the American Heart Association at where information about heart disease and prevention is at your fingertips.

Barb reminds people that her success didn't happen overnight. But she says, "I'm proof, I am proof it can be done, it may not happen overnight and it may not happen in a year, but it will happen."


Additional Resources to Help Get You Started


Are you interested in starting a walking or running program this spring? Like Barb, you too can make great strides to prevent or even reverse heart disease.