Three Heart-Healthy Makeovers
Can you really improve your heart health and reduce your risk for cardiac disease?
A Graduate Student Takes Action Against Heart Disease continued...
For Morgan, heart disease is something that hits close to home: Three of her
four grandparents died of either heart attacks or strokes, and her father has
struggled with high blood pressure throughout his lifetime.
Only a few years ago, Morgan herself had a brush with heart disease and
struggled with her weight. She knew she had to turn her own health around if
she was going to live long enough to help others improve their health.
"I was going through a pretty tough semester in the fall of 2006," says
Morgan. "I had three statistics classes, and at the same time I was
coordinating a community health and wellness fair. So between these two major
projects, it was a bit much, and over the course of several months I really let
my health hit rock bottom."
Risk factors of heart disease
And she paid the price. About a week later, she had a doctor's appointment,
where she learned her cholesterol was high, her blood pressure was above
normal, and her weight was reaching upwards of 250. At 5 feet 4 inches, she
knew she was in trouble.
"I thought to myself, 'Here I am planning a health fair, and I can't even
keep my own house in order,'" says Morgan.
Morgan's plan was to start over, and set fair and attainable heart-health
goals she could reach. She made it her mission to master every piece of cardio
equipment at the fitness center -- the elliptical, the treadmill, the bike, and
the dreaded stair climber. After a few months, she could spend an hour on any
machine at the gym and feel good about it.
As a PhD student, she knows the value of education, so she learned more
about nutrition and which foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and
legumes, would help her cause. She drank 80 ounces of water every day, and used
6:30 p.m. as her personal cutoff for eating or snacking to avoid going to bed
with a full stomach and to keep her daily calorie intake under control. Since
2006, Morgan has lost almost 50 pounds and continues to work at her weight. For
the sake of her heart health, she's working on getting her body mass index (BMI) under 25
and her waist circumference under 35 inches -- both good measurements for women
at risk for heart disease.
Indeed, a healthy meal plan is key to Morgan's success. For heart-healthy
eating, Zelman recommends brushing your teeth right after dinner to control
nighttime munching and eating a vegetarian meal several times a week (for
low-cal, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich boosts).
Women and heart disease
"We have to remember that women are not immune to heart disease by any
stretch of the imagination," says Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, a cardiologist at New
York University. "In fact, today more women than men are dying from
cardiovascular disease in the United States."
But Morgan is working hard to avoid becoming a statistic. "Vernita is a true
success story," says Mieres, who was part of Morgan's treatment team. "She used
small steps to get big gains. Losing weight, reducing her cholesterol, making
lifestyle changes -- these factors are critical to Vernita's avoiding following
in the path of her relatives who have had heart disease and stroke."