Her Heart Challenge – Meet the Class of 2021

Last Modified: 10/08/2021

Heart Challenge

The Her Heart Challenge, offered through the Parkview Heart Institute, has been a standout piece of the Her Heart programming since 2016, focusing on women’s unique cardiovascular needs and their risks for heart disease. 

Every August, the Her Heart team selects a small group of women through an in-depth interview process and invites them to participate in the 12-week program. This includes weekly meetings with Parkview Health experts who lead discussions on how to decrease risk factors and lower the chances of developing heart disease through lifestyle changes, both physical and emotional.

Adjusting to the circumstances

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Jill Zahm, program coordinator, grappled with how to provide this valuable program, which is dependent on relationships between the women and the educators. With safety top of mind, all in-person meetings were canceled, but a new concept emerged: Her Heart Challenge Recharge 2020, which was a virtual program for past Challenge graduates.

“In the Her Heart Challenge we like to say you now have a tribe of support for life, and although the content of the meetings was focused on education regarding healthy lifestyle, the connections that formed, especially during that tumultuous time, were, for lack of a better word, precious,” Jill said.

A return to normal … kind of

This year, the Her Heart Challenge again welcomed new participants. On August 6, 2021, 15 women, ages 50-70, gathered on the patio of the Parkview Heart Institute for a dinner and education. While the original plan was to dine Downtown and enjoy a weekend-long kickoff retreat, a COVID surge called for improvising.

While the plan was altered, the spirit of the program remained firmly intact. “These 15 women came to commit to lifestyle changes to live healthier, live happier and live longer by accepting the Her Heart Challenge,” Jill shared. “COVID has changed the way we do many things to stay safe, but the unwavering commitment to the Challenge to inspire women to live heart healthy lives has not.”

As they gathered that evening on the patio, the women, most of whom had never met, shared their stories with open hearts. Tears and laughter were abundant as they found common bonds and friendships began to bloom.

Making the most of it

The Her Heart team thought of innovative ways to keep the class of 2021 moving forward, without a kickoff retreat and in-person classes. “This class has demonstrated amazing resiliency and flexibility in their willingness to learn and apply the principles of the program in a virtual platform,” Jill said.

Some of these women actually began this journey by applying in 2020, and patiently waited through the delays brought on by the pandemic. It’s always challenging to pick participants, as so many make good candidates. In the end, we choose to move forward with the individuals we believe are open to making healthy changes.

The Challenge participants completed lab work and biometric measurements to discern their personal risk factors and establish baselines for their goals. We held weekly classes via video conferencing and covered a range of topics, including self-esteem, setting SMART goals, heart-healthy cooking, exercise, hypertension, mindfulness, self-care, cholesterol, weight management and sleep.

“I also instituted a new Pen Pal program to help the ladies make connections in this virtual platform,” Jill shared. “I call it ‘Heart Pals.’ I randomly paired them up and sent out ice breaker questions for them to answer each week. I switched the partners throughout the Challenge. The goal was to create at least three meaningful relationships.”

Keeping the core mission

As Jill explained, “The foundation of the Her Heart Challenge is learning to love yourself first, knowing that once you have that foundation you begin to give your body what it needs to be healthy. As women, we tend to tear ourselves down. We nurture others before ourselves. The intention of this program is to allow the participants to see the value of self-care and making their health a priority.”

Learn more about the Challenge

If you’re interested in learning more about the Parkview Her Heart Challenge and would like to potentially apply in the future, visit us here.

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