Heart disease is the number one killer of all Americans and impacts black and Latino communities at higher rates. Although there are many reasons for these differences, one of the most important is lack of education regarding heart disease and its risk factors. These risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, unhealthy diet, smoking, and limited physical activity have also contributed to higher coronavirus cases and death rates among black and Latino communities.
The good news is that up to 80% of heart disease is preventable and many of its risk factors can be improved through healthy lifestyle changes. Through the HeartSmarts virtual challenge, The Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center will work with communities to increase knowledge about heart disease in a fun and engaging format.
How it Works
¨ Teams led by a HeartSmarts ambassador compete and engage in various heart healthy activities for points.
¨ Participants attend a weekly virtual HeartSmarts class and earn points through activities based on HeartSmarts 7 Steps to a Healthy Heart. Virtual classes will be taught by HeartSmarts ambassadors.
¨ The teams with the highest number of points win.
In march 2020, lives were severely altered by the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. As people tried to adjust to the new changes, feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, and anger set in. As the days of social distancing turned into weeks, healthy behaviors were replaced with sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits. As more people became infected with COVID-19, the data showed a trend of the Black community having higher rates of infection and death. One reason for this is the underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension that disproportionately impact the black community. As a health educator, I felt that it was a crucial time to share the HeartSmarts program and help people focus on their health. As a result, I created the HeartSmarts virtual heart healthy challenge. For seven weeks, participants learned about heart disease, its risk factors, and prevention. They engaged in various activities including a step challenge and healthy meal preparation. 120 participants completed the program. Many lost weight, decreased their blood pressure, improved their diet, and increased their physical activity. Health education and health related activities do not have to stop during a pandemic. Through creativity and resourcefulness, health education programs can provide people with an outlet to engage in healthy coping strategies to emerge stronger and more resilient.
Through hard work, dedication, and the support received through the HeartSmarts program, Yetka has reduced her blood pressure, lost weight, increased her activity, and improved her diet. She is now passionate about health and wellness and wants to serve as an example to others of what is possible.
Yetka says: Thank you for this wonderful program. I've been a vegetarian for the past 15 years however my diet consisted of mostly carbs. I removed all salt from my food back in March when my primary care doctor wanted to write a prescription for high blood pressure meds. My blood pressure was 154/94. I asked her to give me three months and she did. When I had my next checkup my blood pressure was 130/80. Since starting Heart Smarts my blood pressure has gone as low as 116/69. Moving my body, removing salt and unhealthy carbs, and eating healthier have been a huge help.
OVER 25LBS & 3 DRESS SIZES DOWN! Through hard work, dedication, and the support received through the HeartSmarts program, Paulette of Team Strong Hearts has reduced her blood pressure and cholesterol, stopped taking migraine medication, lost weight, increased her activity, and improved her diet. She is now passionate about health and wellness and wants to serve as an example to others of what is possible.
Paulette says: When I joined HeartSmarts in the Spring, I did not expect it to be a life-changing experience. I have learned and incorporated so much, rebuilding healthy habits – exercising every day and accepting whole, nutrient-dense food as my medicine. My progress has been slow and steady but I’m seeing the impact of lifestyle changes on my health: My blood pressure is consistently within normal limits.
Although I have a family history of high cholesterol, my numbers are all within normal range, no statin therapy. I suffered with chronic, debilitating migraines for more than half my life. For the first time in many moons, I’m off medication and have had no break-thru attacks since February. I am losing weight and inches – down 25 lbs and 3 dress sizes since January. I am so grateful to Dr. Tettey for creating the program and making it available virtually; to Ambassadors Cynthia Mason and Traci Audena for their phenomenal support and coaching, and to all the participants for their love and support.
Through hard work, dedication, and the support received through the HeartSmarts program, Lugenia has reduced her blood pressure, lost weight, increased her activity, and improved her diet. She is now passionate about health and wellness and wants to serve as an example to others of what is possible.
Lugenia says: I was pre-diabetic, high cholesterol and prescribed prevastatin. My blood pressure was so high at one time that immediately after vitals were taken the nurse wanted to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital. I have made the necessary adjustments to my lifestyle through HeartSmarts. My blood pressure is no longer high. I am focused on movement, plant based living, and my health!
OVER 40lbs LOST! Through hard work, dedication, and the support received through the HeartSmarts program, Ambassador Jeannette Wells has reduced her blood pressure, lost weight, increased her activity, and improved her diet. She is now passionate about health and wellness and wants to serve as an example to others of what is possible.
Jeannette says: When I started the virtual heartsmarts edition in September 2020 I made the change to more vegetables and fruits, less meat and fish came a little later. Gradually I lost some weight but not consistently. My cholesterol was very high, my doctor prescribed medication. I told her I wasn't going to take because I wanted to give my new way of eating a chance. She agreed, at that point we became a team. The @heartsmarts Moving Closer to Plant Based course taught by Dr. Tettey literally tipped the scales. 3 months without eating any meat reduced my weight and cholesterol. My doctor was convinced. I must admit the combination of eating whole fresh food , exercising, bonding with the team, reading very interesting books, virtual cooking with a chef, and experimenting with recipes has drastically improved my health.
Adding whole food and omitting the oil, salt and sugar . All to make a winning combination of weight loss better blood work results and feeling great.
After experiencing weight gain, I was wondering what to do until I received a phone call from Dr. Tettey asking me to join the HeartSmarts Challenge. When I joined the group I did not know how it was going to work out, I was a size 20, my clothes could not fit I was going to give away my clothes but thank God I did not. The first week I started the program I measured my waist, weight, and blood pressure and they were the same. In the second week, I realized my numbers began to drop. I continued to walk some days 20 miles others 17 miles. I started to see more improvement of my blood pressure, waist line, lost inches, and my weight has gone down. My diet has changed, I am eating on time and consuming less carbs and diligently get my steps in. Even at work I take my lunch hour to walk and 12 blocks in the city using the stairs instead of elevator. One thing I know there is a lot of temptation, at work as an essential worker, a lot of places donate all kinds of pastries, but I leave that alone and eat an apple. Thank God for HeartSmarts.
When I started the HeartSmarts Healthy Heart challenge, I weighed 228 pounds. A lot of this weight was weight that I gained after the death of my father in 2018. As a black man, we tend to not deal with tragedy and trauma in an effective way. The loss of my father had a tremendous effect on me, which led to my weight gain. I always made the excuse that I never had enough time to work out. When the coronavirus pandemic forced everyone in the New York/New Jersey area into lockdown, I could no longer use my daily routine as an excuse to not take care of myself. I decided to join the HeartSmarts Challenge and give it my all. After having the second highest total steps among the individual competitors, I lost 20 pounds and now weigh 207 pounds. On the last day of the challenge, I ran my first 5K marathon. This challenge allowed me the time and the structure to heal myself. I will be eternally grateful for being a part of the first HeartSmarts challenge.
The HeartSmarts Heart Healthy Challenge came about when I was discharged from Sloane Kettering having had Breast Cancer, metastasis to the spine. On 3/11/2020, I had surgery, a laminectomy with fusion of my L4 and L5 bones. Discharged from the hospital 3/15/2020, I had difficulty with ambulation. The discharge instructions were, to be careful, for I was at risk for fall and not to bend, lift or twist. The week prior, to the start of the Challenge, I had 26 staples removed from my back. There were days I experienced periods of weakness. At times it was necessary for me to use a cane to ambulate. Presently, I am at 270,900 steps and moving strong. The first week of the challenge, I was barely able to do 1000- 2000 steps per day.
Trusting God, I continued to be determined in my resolve to stay committed to my fight to better health. My Heartsmarts Ambassador, Dr. Jennifer Lendore, was a chief supporter. My physicians are amazed at my rehabilitation.
Prior to joining this program I have inconsistently been taking control of my health and trying to stay active. I would brush things off to the next day or become discouraged.This program has really motivated to keep active not only to be a contributing member for the teams I am leading but with the help of this challenge it has motivated for me to want to get up and more (to get my steps in). It feels good to be apart of a community where we are all after the same goal and to get moving. To date I have lost 2 inches from my waist and have looked more toned. Who would of know from walking/ and being active can come with these results. I am very happy to be apart of this program and very grateful to lead some great teams.
When I was first introduced to this discipline, I gladly accepted and started to participate on a gradual basis. I pledged to do only 6000 steps per day, and trust me, this was a great feat to me because I used to drive everywhere. When I was introduced by my Ambassador Cutie Stone to the program and the team effort involved I recognized this as a wake up call to get my health in a priority mode. In addition, the weekly manuals from Dr. Tettey filled with nothing but very smart and common sense factual information to obtain and maintain a healthy heart and lifestyle boosted an effervescent desire in me to be healthier. I am thankful for this program implemented by Dr. Tettey
I have been inspired to move and keep moving! It is not as difficult as I thought it would be. I am not a brisk walker, but I can stroll, it's as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. When I started out in this program, I was barely doing 6,000 steps of purposeful walking. Now, after 5 weeks and encouragement from my teammates and ambassador, I easily complete 15,000 - 20,000 steps. I have had cardiac bypass surgery, so I am aware of the importance of healing, exercising, and strengthening my heart. In addition to walking, the information that has been provided is invaluable. It has heightened my awareness of what I THOUGHT I knew.
In the following months, my intention is to increase and maintain my target goal gradually.
During this COVID-19 pandemic season, I have been extremely moved by the loss of five dear friends that I've known for the past 45 years. As time progressed, I was further jarred by the astounding statistics that reflected the fact that Black and Brown people were reaching an all time higher ratio of deaths as a result of contracting the COVID virus than other groups of people. Considering the fact that I am a Black woman, with heart disease and an immune system that is easily compromised, I became extremely concerned about not only doing all that lies within my power to increase my intake of herbs and vitamins to boost my immune system, exercising and raising my level of consciousness to eat even more greens and foods that would also boost my immune, but to offer knowledge to my people of color that would offer assistance in improving their lifestyle choices during this epic season in all of our lives.
This strong desire to offer some healthy support was nurtured by a personal drive and passion which became actualized through a YouTube presentation wherein I was able to share my personal feelings and health tips, supported by a simple, yet powerful video presentation, that showed how we can take the simple concept of eating salad, which is so healthy and full of nutrients and antioxidants, strongly needed to support ones immune system, and discover some quick and interesting ways to combine fruits, vegetables and nuts to enjoy as a healthy meal, as opposed to only eating a small amount of salad with ones main meal or entree.
A further exciting opportunity presented itself through NY Presbyterian Hospital as I qualified as a trained Ambassador to be one of 10, chosen to teach a pilot, 7 Week Heart Health Challenge to volunteers throughout the New York Area. What an honor to use the power of my voice as a Black woman. With years of experience teaching about the prevention of heart disease, a culprit of the corona virus, and my powerful testimony of having had a massive heart attack, it meant everything to be personal amongst Black and Brown people like myself, who have chosen to seize the moment and opportunity to learn how they can be proactive concerning the improvement of their health, through making lifestyle changes concerning their daily diets and become more conscious about moving, through stepping and other physical activities.
Together we are growing individually and being supportive of one another through the excitement that is emerging from the team spirit that has been formed as the volunteers became grouped together as teams of five persons. Climaxing recently, together we have successfully accomplished achieving over 25 million steps, in a four week milestone, as a huge testimonial from the group of 100 volunteers. We have validated that a made up mind can yield lifestyle changes that reflect the importance of changing our behavior and habits regarding food choices and becoming more physically active. We have collectively actualized the significance of choosing to eat to live rather than living to eat.
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