Putting Herself First

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One Mom’s Commitment to Better Health

Since 2010, I’ve been a proud team coach of Arterial Motives for the American Heart Association’s Capital Region Heart Walk & Run. I walk alongside my family and friends in memory of my dad and grandfather, as well as in honor of several loved ones who have overcome heart disease. I walk with my uncle who received a new heart two years ago.

For the past couple of years, I’ve served on the Executive Leadership Team as well. Our goal for this year’s Heart Walk & Run is to raise a record $630,000, which will further the mission of the American Heart Association:

To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.

This year, that mission hits home more than ever. On Go Red Day, February 1, my youngest brother, Lucas (a 33-year-old newlywed), died of heart-related issues. I’m walking to prevent lives from being cut short.

But I can’t do it alone!

Year-after-year, my friend and colleague, Sara Block, has been one of my most dedicated and passionate Heart Walk participants. This year, Sara was selected as one of 14 women to participate in the American Heart Association’s BetterU program (yay!!).

Better What?

Women in the BetterU Challenge participate in a 12-week heart health program, working with various community partners to learn how to take charge of their own wellbeing. In addition to a personal trainer and nutritional workshops, participants also attend weekly workouts and health screenings.

The challenge wraps up with pampering and recognition at the Capital Region’s Go Red For Women Luncheon in May.

I was ecstatic when I found out Sara was selected. Now that she’s halfway through the program, I sat down with her to talk about her involvement with the American Heart Association and to see how the challenge is going.

Why do you support the Heart Walk each year?

I joined your team to support you and also because of my dad. He had a heart attack 10 years ago and survived, thankfully.

What prompted you to apply for the BetterU program?

I go to the luncheon every year and I’ve seen the women who participate. After every lunch, I’ve thought, “I should do that.” These women are inspiring! At the event, I get teary-eyed like everyone else. And I’ve thought, “I can do this.” I need it just like these women did.

This year doesn’t just mark 10 years since my dad’s heart attack. It’s also the 10-year anniversary of my weight loss surgery. A decade and two kids later, the weight crept back. Life happened. As is the case with so many of the BetterU participants, I am a busy mom who tends to think about everyone but myself. My participation in BetterU is a commitment to putting myself first and making healthy changes.

Tell me what it was like when you found out you were selected.

Well, funny enough, I was out for Thai food. I went to the back of the restaurant to take the call. My husband Zack saw my face and he just knew. It felt like I won some sort of prize. It really did.

What has the experience been like so far?

It’s been amazing. It’s so wonderful how people who start off barely knowing each other can become such great sources of support for each other. We all signed up for this. We’re all in this together.

I’m doing things I didn’t think I was capable of doing. I’m really looking to enhance that.

On Tuesdays, the group meets for an hour in the gym at SEFCU’s headquarters. The first half hour is a workout (a mix of strength of cardio). Julie Bushart, a personal trainer from the YMCA, and Jean Huta, our physical therapist, lead our workouts and help us prevent injury.

American Heart Association staff do the workout, too! Amy Young, their executive director, is actually in the BetterU program with us. People come and encourage us. There’s a whole extended family beyond the people in the group who join us for support.

The second half of the weekly workout focuses on emotional wellbeing. We share our successes and things we’re having trouble with. It’s a safe space. There are so many obstacles we’re all addressing. People really open up! Lots of tears are shed. It’s not just a physical workout, but also an emotional one.

We’ve also had a tour of Price Chopper Market Bistro in Latham. Ellie Wilson, their senior nutritionist, gave us a lot of great tips. She works out with us, too. She’s fantastic. She’s there as a resource for any questions we have about food, nutrition labels, etc. We did the tour and they showed us different options for the main food groups. It really sparked some ideas.

The BetterU participants also have a membership at the Guilderland and Clifton Park YMCAs. Getting there during the week is a challenge. But I have a gym at work. I’m doing both. I tried water aerobics Saturday morning at the Y. I went on the BetterU Facebook group and asked if anyone wanted to join me. Within 15 minutes, I had someone to go with!

I was assigned a personal trainer and we meet every other week. I want to strengthen my knees and my back, and that’s what we build on. It’s stuff I can easily do on my own, too.

There are also some special meetings. A couple of weekends ago, we met at the Y on a Saturday and took a self-defense class. That was interesting!

I know you’ve pushed outside of your comfort zone and tried a few new fitness classes. Tell me about that.

Well, I’ve tried yoga for the first time at CDPHP. I was a little emotional because I’m trying to do different things to help my knees and back. I had struggles at first … but I felt good about it afterward, because I didn’t give up when it got challenging. It’s one of those things I didn’t think I’d ever try. I gotta say – you pushed me into it. You talked it up and gave me motivation.

I also signed up for Beginner HIIT (for the first time), and after that I’m taking the Gentle Flow Yoga class again.

Normally, I would make excuses for myself. Oh the class was canceled, never mind! But instead I’m doing other things. If a class is cancelled, I’ll walk on the treadmill.

As a busy mom with two young daughters, what tricks have you used to ensure you get your workouts in?

I try to use the gym at CDPHP as much as possible. I’m lucky enough to have a flexible schedule and a team that values working out.

But, when it’s nice out, we try to go on family walks. Nora (who will be 2 this summer) likes to play fetch. And it’s not her fetching. It’s us fetching. She knows how to work us.

Zack really should get a shoutout – he’s been my rock through this. I couldn’t have done it without him. He’s been so supportive. He also distracts Nora when I’m cooking. My parents and in-laws have also been on this ride with me, cheering me on.

Have you set up a playlist for your workouts? Or do you have a favorite podcast to listen to?

I usually just throw on Sirius or Pandora.

No podcasts. I’m not against it, though. (Note to self: send Sara a list of podcast recommendations).

Anything you were surprised to discover – either about yourself or the process?

I knew it would be a big time commitment. It’s more than I imagined. Which is fine. When I sent in my application for the program, I put all of the required dates in my calendar. I’m figuring out how to balance it all and determining when I can go to the gym after work.

I’m still not good in the kitchen. But I’m more interested. Not frustrated like in the past.

I’m feeling more confident about making meals. Amy (7 years old) is more involved – she tries everything I make. I made pork chops with apples and onions. She said “Mommy, you should open a restaurant!” I’m not sure about that, but…

In the past, Zack usually cooked for our family. Amy asked me yesterday if I can keep cooking after “the healthy thing” is over. That was encouraging.

How have your habits changed?

I don’t snack. Snacking has been my biggest problem. In the past, I tried to keep snacks in my desk, but I’d constantly get tempted and eat too many. Now, I only bring in what I’m planning to eat that day.

I find myself trying to make more of an effort for planned/scheduled eating. And fitting in more fruits and vegetables. I know that sounds cliché – but it’s a big change. Although I’d eat grapes and red bell peppers even if I wasn’t trying to eat clean.

What about your habits as a family?

Seeing me cook is making an impact on Amy. She’s paying attention. She noticed that I didn’t cook in the past. I never really thought about that before. But she tells me I’m doing a good job. I explained the program to her. I try not to make it about weight loss. It’s about eating healthier food, trying to be more active, and living a healthier lifestyle.

When I start to cook, I’ll ask if she wants to help me. We’re discovering foods that she didn’t know she liked. We made salmon – she loved it! Note to Zack: we need to buy more.

Her typical foods have historically been peanut butter and jelly or Lunchables. Today she didn’t want either one of those. Finding other things that she’ll eat has been interesting. She’s been surprising us.

Nora doesn’t care. Even Nora liked my pork though!

I even cooked a healthy meal for my parents while they were visiting for the weekend something they are definitely not used to!

Do you have a new favorite recipe?

All of our new recipes have been from Zipongo, a meal planning app available to CDPHP members. The pork chops with apples and onions were delicious. I also made sesame noodles. The maple mustard salmon was a big hit, too.

I also use the grocery list feature in Zipongo. If you have six recipes you want to use chicken for, it will total it all up for you. It’s helpful. We used it throughout our grocery shopping trip. We haven’t tried the delivery option yet – but we’re going to. I like knowing that everything in Zipongo is healthier.

Have you had any hurdles? What’s your biggest struggle been?

Time is a big struggle. But again – that boils down to having support, which I have. That’s been a big help. Curbing my habits and addictions to food is also a big struggle. I’m not usually a fan of exercising. But that’s an easy change to make. It’s just getting your butt into the gym. But I’ve done it. I just have to keep the momentum going.

The food thing is big. You need food. You need to tell yourself to make the right decisions. Any weight loss group or program will tell you – it’s like a drug. But you need it to survive. You just have to approach it in a healthy way.

What’s kept you motivated?

I’m good when there is accountability. I couldn’t bring myself to join this program if failing was even an option. I can’t go into this half-hearted. It’s very public. There are 500 people watching you at the luncheon. I can’t not have lost any weight.

But I’m seeing results. I’m feeling good. I feel good after I go to the gym. Knowing people are watching (especially my daughter, Amy). She asks, “Is it part of that healthy thing you’re doing?” She’s proud. She’s happy… and that motivates me.

We are lucky to work for a company that is recognized by the American Heart Association as “Gold Level” for Workplace Health Achievement Index. What perks have you taken advantage of at work?

The gym, obviously. Free classes offered on a regular basis. Zipongo – it came out right when I needed it. Life Points – I earn rewards for healthy behaviors and immediately put the rewards into our HSA.

Have you considered doing the CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge this year? (If so, have you done it in the past?)

Yes! I’m signed up for it. I did it a couple of years back. My goal was to finish it and not be last. And I wasn’t last. But I was in a lot of pain afterward.

Now I know I can do it. My goal is to feel better at the end.

It’s the same day as the luncheon. It’s going to be an interesting culmination of a lot of hard work.

Have you felt different? Or noticed any changes with anything… other than the number on the scale?

Obviously, the first thing people look for is the number on the scale. So far, I’ve lost 10 pounds and several inches scattered around different parts of my body (yay!). Going up and down the stairs is a smidge easier. I have a pair of pants I haven’t worn in a while that fit me better.

We re-did our physical assessment with Jean and Julie. It included timing standing up from a chair five times without using any assistance. Back in February, it took me 28 seconds with an enormous amount of pain and literal tears. Yesterday, it took 16 seconds with somewhat less pain and zero tears. So, big victory.

Any advice for people who want to make a big change like this?

First of all, don’t sell yourself short. I’m discovering things about myself that I’d questioned before.

Don’t think you’re alone – you’d be surprised. There are a lot of others who have issues with exercise. Don’t go into something thinking you’re the only one who has an issue with it. All the people in the gym are there for the same reasons – to be healthy and workout.

Want to be a relentless force?

Wondering how you can help the American Heart Association be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives? Here are a few ideas:

  • Attend the Go Red For Women Luncheon on May 16

    Not only will you get to see Sara’s Big Reveal (along with the other 11 BetterU), but you’ll be a part of a powerful event. The Go Red For Women Luncheon strives to inspire collective change – community transformation! It’s an empowering experience designed to give women the tools to prevent heart disease and promote a healthy lifestyle.

  • Join Sara and me on June 2

    Sign up for the American Heart Association Heart Walk (or run!). If your employer isn’t participating already, convince them to do so. Or join a community team.

  • Make a donation

    You can contribute to any participant … or show Sara a bit of support directly!

  • Learn how to protect yourself and your family

    Take advantage of the resources available through the American Heart Association.

 

 

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