When we commit to a significant well-being overhaul – whether we’re striving to improve a mental or physical lifestyle factor – we know we’re signing up for a journey. Experience tells us that nothing rewarding comes easy; It takes work and commitment and a passion to educate yourself on the topic at hand. One group that knows the peaks and valleys of the self-improvement process well is our Her Heart Challenge participants.
Over the past 12 weeks, the coaches have repeatedly asked these women to try new things, make self-care a priority and think about their health differently, as they worked together to improve both the participants’ mental and physical well-being and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. The ladies encountered the same obstacles that many of us run into when we change habits and attempt to rewire our routine.
Throughout the program we asked the women to provide feedback about how they were handling these popular barriers: Resources/Information, Accountability, Support/Community, Motivation and Willpower. Here are some key takeaways regarding their lessons learned and coping mechanisms as they navigated the major hurdles through their Her Heart Challenge experience. Their reflections are unique to their quest for better heart health, but many of the sentiments are universal. The encouragement or wisdom you’re looking for today might be in their words below.
Often our poor choices are simply a reflection of a lack of awareness. Arming yourself with the right information and tools, as well as a structured plan, can make a huge difference.
“Glucose is confusing to me, obviously since I was recently told I have diabetes. The medical part is not as easy to comprehend as the concept of walking 10,000 steps is.” – Marianne
“I have started making better decisions about food. I read labels and look for low sodium, which I never did before. I am trying to eat lean proteins and more fruits and vegetables. I am making conscious decisions and adding movement to my day. Just knowing my risk factors has been very useful for me.” – Jennifer
“I am reading labels on food items to see what is or is not added to it. Looking at different ways to prepare food to cut out the bad stuff and still have the flavor. Knowing we are important has helped me think positive about caring more than ever about what foods I buy. Keep going no matter what.” – Rose
“Self awareness! This program helped me get in touch with why I use sugar and comfort foods. I discovered an emotional attachment and I need to work at my weight issue from that perspective. I will get the help I need to deal with the underlying issues. I am practicing mindfulness meditation to try to bring my stress level down” – Shari
PRO TIP: “Parkview is your resource headquarters! Need a dietitian? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Need a nurse practitioner? Email email@example.com. Have heart-related questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Need some extra motivation? Email email@example.com . Looking for new programs, cooking classes, yoga or tai chi? Check the Community Calendar, which is packed with classes at the Parkview Center for Healthy Living. Want a beautiful and safe place to walk? Hit the trails at the Parkview Family Park.
We tell the ladies in the Her Heart Challenge to know who the experts are and seek out accurate advice. The Internet is great for research, but can also offer misguided information from untrustworthy sources. When in doubt, start with the Parkview Center for Healthy Living, which provides everything from nurse practitioners to registered dietitians. These professionals are here to guide you to accurate health information.” – Sarah Mohrman, RDN, CD, MA, dietitian/coordinator wellness and marketing, PPG – Cardiology
Showing up is half the battle. Having the right people by your side and an attainable goal in sight are key factors for success.
“The number one change has been setting goals and being accountable to myself. If I cheat or slack I am only hurting myself. My goal was to add additional exercise into my weekly routing. I have been doing this. My new goal is to try to obtain 5 miles a day. I am starting to see results in meeting my second goal of weight loss.” – Mary
“The stresses and temptations are still there, and I still make bad choices sometimes. The difference is that before the Challenge, a bad choice would throw me off my goal. Now, I’m able to persevere through the bad choice and keep going.” – Andrea
“Don’t autopilot through life!” – Anonymous
“Journal and live in the present! So many times I write about things that happened in the past. My mind is often hijacked and I have trouble sleeping because I have thinking brain. I am trying to be more in the moment.” – Anonymous
PRO TIP: “A food diary will help you stay accountable to your health goals. Whether you use a traditional paper and pencil or download a food diary app like MyFitnessPal, food journaling shows your weaknesses and keeps you accountable to yourself. Be sure to track your food intake throughout the day – not at the end of the day when you can’t adjust to hit your goal. Stay on track as the day goes along. Track your exercise and your weight in the diary as well. For an extra boost, share your journal with a friend or do weigh-ins with your friend each week.” – Sarah
Success is better when you have someone to share it with. Surround yourself with positive, motivated loved ones who won’t derail your progress.
“This challenge is empowering and showing busy and exhausted women that it is healthy and OK to take care of ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard for us to accept.” – Mary
“The primary change has actually been mental; Realizing that I am worth the same time and care that I give others in my life. When we shared our stories the first night, it was a powerful thing to see such wonderful women (participants and staff) struggling with the same things I do. It hurt my heart to hear a beautiful child of God say she hates herself, but I realized that on some level, I am the same way. Now as I work through the challenge, I continue to answer the question of how to honor my mind and body, and support others in the group with the same thing.” – Andrea
“I am getting healthy and wanting to stay that way. I see the weight loss and feel better about exercising. I just feel better physically and mentally. I care about myself because Parkview cared enough about me to help me get here.” – Anonymous
“I feel better about myself and less alone.” – Jennifer
“We have the support to help us think more about ourselves as being important and worth caring about. We are helping each other.” – Rose
“I have loved meeting and being inspired by other women facing the same issues. They give me support and guidance in making alternative choices to deal with struggles in life.” – Tina
“It helps to maintain healthy relationships and practice prevention triggers.” – Anonymous
PRO TIP: “Get involved in heart healthy initiatives in the community. Sign up for local walks, such as the AHA Heartwalk, Fort 4 Fitness or a walk for a charity that means something to you. Explore the trails, utilize tracks at local YMCAs or indoor walking tracks during inclement weather. Get a group together and work toward a common goal or set aside time to exercise as your schedules allow. Start a neighborhood walking club, organize a team for a local fitness event or join an amateur sport league.” – Sarah
Identify what inspires you and keep reminders of that incentive close, whether it’s a mantra or a visual cue.
“I’ve learned to set goals I can achieve and to believe in me, depend on me, love me, and realize that I am not alone.” – Joann
“No barriers. I set goals and I keep them in mind when making choices.” – Mary
“I have lost almost 10 pounds so far, and I continue to challenge myself every day with new fitness goals. This program has made me think about my overall health for the long term, prompting me to schedule several important checkups that I had been putting off. I checked my blood pressure a couple weeks ago, and it was closer to the normal range than it’s been in a long time. I still have work to do, but this progress is motivating me to stick with my healthy eating and consistent cardio, stretching, and strength-training activities.” – Marcia
“Increase in endurance and the willingness to participate more in life.” – Tina
“This was a wakeup call. I know better but it is so easy to slip into bad old habits. I have lost weight and am down a size. Everything I have experienced so far has enhanced my overall well-being. I am working on those life changes. I feel more positive and energized.” – Mary
“I am so thankful for this opportunity and know it came into my life for a reason. I have the chance to not only to change myself but to impact my children as well.” – Jennifer
“I have seen strong mental and physical changes in myself since the beginning of the challenge. The physical changes have taken longer, which has been difficult at times, but the support of the group and staff has helped me to persevere through that. What a blessing!” – Andrea
“Awareness. Putting into practice what I kept telling myself I was going to do. Setting goals. Identifying traps and support. Telling myself I am worth it. My well-being attitude is elevated and I smile more. I think I glow since I started this amazing journey. I am enjoying fitting into clothes that were in the back of the closet, where I had put the true me. Overall, I feel not just good about me but great!” – Mary
“The scale is not where I wanted to be for my weight goal, but I think that it is a matter of time. I have experienced a sea of change with how I am living and my eating and exercise habits, as well as my mental strength. Before, I approached my mental health as triage to fix what needs fixing. Now, I am mindful about my own mind and have come a long way with how I take care of myself.” – Andrea
“Keep a positive attitude about your health and body. Do your best and don’t feel guilty.” – Anonymous
“Everything we eat and put in our bodies affects our heart. Exercise everyday – for life.” – Anonymous
PRO TIP: “Setting short term achievable goals helps people stay motivated for the long term. If your goal is weight loss, set a 6-month goal for yourself to lose 10 percent of your body weight, but then break the goal down further into monthly goals. Keep track of your successes in a notebook to help you stay on track.
Give yourself the time. Your health is just as valuable as your next meeting. Physically schedule in your calendar when you are going to exercise, take a walk or take a break for yourself. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will not be there to help take care of those that need you most.” – Sarah
It’s easy to let one weak moment sabotage weeks of hard work. Learn to identify triggers, avoid temptations, prepare for the challenges ahead and, most of all, to forgive yourself when you do make an unhealthy choice.
“I’ve lost a little weight, but I’m seeing lifestyle changes starting to take place. When stressed, I no longer automatically reach for unhealthy comfort food. The temptation remains for sure, but I stop to consider my choices first. Instead of seeing exercise as a chore, it’s becoming a fun activity – like recess to used to be.” – Andrea
“Initially, I was doing very well and began to lose weight but I became overwhelmed with stress and reverted back. I discovered the underlying issue. I feel more aware of my body and the impact of the choices I make.” – Shari
“I am a lot less stressed when I make a poor choice. It is one moment, not the end of the game for me. This shows me that my ‘quitting spiral’ has been broken, which is a really big deal for me, and that good habits have been established. It sounds dramatic, but the changes I’ve seen have been profound. It takes time to plan meals and schedule exercise while working full-time and volunteering, but it is so worth it. I’ve also come to the conclusion that sometimes my brain is not my friend. The stress and anxiety can be overwhelming for me.” – Andrea
“Mindfulness can be hijacked by fear. Instead, I need to focus on what is going right, not what can go wrong.” – Anonymous
“Be in the present.” – Anonymous
PRO TIP: “Celebrate each time you establish a new habit. Change is difficult and you must acknowledge your successes daily. If you slip up and don’t exercise as much on a recent vacation or perhaps you overindulge in some not-so-heart healthy goodies, get back on track the next day. All is not lost. It’s the progress to improve that we are ultimately striving for. Surround yourself with healthy choices and friends who embrace healthy behaviors; This will help your willpower in the long run.” – Sarah