Staying motivated for fitness and well-being can sometimes be a struggle but keeping active and eating well is crucial to maintaining long-term health for your heart and body. With a new year brings new goals. To give you a boost, we’re sharing how seven members or our community made some changes and took steps to better health.
Every year at the Greater Washington Region Heart Walk, individuals are honored for taking step to improve their health. In 2020, Kaiser Permanente sponsored the Healthy For Good Lifestyle Change Awards that serve as a reminder to all that small changes can make a huge impact on our health – and it is never too late to begin that journey. These seven individuals inspire us all to create lasting change in our health and lives, one small step at a time.
Howard Bernstein, meteorologist with WUSA9 and long-time Heart Walk host, is aware of his family history of CVD as well as diabetes, he knows we all “suffer from genetics” but used this information as motivation and encouragement to make healthy lifestyle changes in his own life. Howard watches his weight and works to eat more carefully; he made a vow to eat only the food he brings to work to avoid the candy, cake, and other unhealthy food items that are often available. He also lives an active lifestyle and implements strength training as well as using an Adjustable Motion Trainer for a great workout that does not hurt his knees or back and completes 100 push-ups each workout. Like many, COVID-19 has affected his ability to go to the gym, so Howard has found other activities to remain active while staying safe. Most recently, he has begun cycling, an activity many of his friends do as well. Bernstein enjoys riding around the Potomac River, exploring and finding new shops, stores, and other businesses. He shared that when you change your physique you stand taller, your clothes fit better, and you feel better. When discussing what his lifestyle change means to him, Bernstein said, “In 2010, I had back surgery and I realized I only have so much time to do things, my body is going to betray me again at some point. By keeping myself in-shape, I have more time to do those things I like to do.” He works to continue to live a healthy life and hopes to ski well into his senior years!
Scott Boccia grew up playing every sport possible he was like many kids, staying outside from sunrise to sunset and continued this active lifestyle throughout his life. That is why he was surprised when noticed something was off during his workouts. Scott was becoming exhausted and dizzy after only 10 minutes of exercise. He went to the doctor and it was from the cardiologist that Scott learned he would need open-heart surgery; due to congenital heart disease (bicuspid aortic valve), he was not previously aware of. Scott began researching and reading more about his upcoming surgery as his therapy to reassure himself he would be in capable hands. Within eight weeks after his Bicuspid Aortic Valve Replacement (BAVR) open heart surgery, he was back to his previous life, picking up his young children and lifting weights. However, his story, unfortunately, did not end there. Five years later, Scott knew something was off again, after returning to the cardiologist, he found out he needed second open heart surgery immediately. This time the surgery had complications including both heart and lung failure. Scott spent 36 days in a hospital bed following his second surgery dealing with the repeated nightmares, relearning how to walk, write, and speak during that time. The difference between his first and second surgery was that Scott decided to take control and chose an On-X mechanical heart valve to replace his previous bioprosthetic (tissue) valve after researching his options. Now, almost three and a half years later, he is taking control again by committing to a lifestyle change. Scott started working out six days a week using interval and weight training as well as making a point to walk for 30 minutes throughout his day. He has also adopted a healthy eating pattern. This change is motivated by his family, Scott has two daughters and a son, and looks forward to the day he walks his daughters down the aisle and is a part of his son’s wedding. He has been able to use his experience to help others that face or have been through open-heart surgery. When Scott was asked what his lifestyle change has meant to him, he said, “My mentality is you got one of two things, fight or flight”; Scott continues to choose to fight for both himself and others who are going through or have gone through open-heart surgery. He turned to his community during his time of need for support and now is part of a community to help support others in similar situations and encourages all to share their story.
At the beginning of 2020, Jeff Dion knew he needed to make a change to lose weight. He had previously used nutrition programs but decided that he would need to be more diligent and commit to his goal. He found out from a friend about a fitness program that had a transformation challenge that was 8-weeks long where you commit to going to the gym at least three times each week. At first, Jeff was apprehensive to participate in a program that required such a commitment; he travels a lot for work, so he did not think it would be feasible. Shortly after, he decided that was exactly what he needed to do to change his lifestyle. He no longer used his travel as an excuse; when he was out of town, he would find gyms nearby his hotel to work out, sometimes at 5:30 am before meetings. When the challenge ended in early March, Jeff had lost between 17 and 19 pounds. Due to COVID, he could no longer travel for work, and he was nervous thinking about how he would be able to continue with his lifestyle change while not being able to go to the gym. Jeff began to run outside instead. He is not the biggest fan of running but averages 3 ½ miles a day. Jeff also found some unexpected benefits from the pandemic, such as not eating out at restaurants as much because he was no longer able to travel as well as getting 8 hours of quality sleep a night since he no longer had to commute to work. He also explained that the pandemic motivated this continued change because he learned that individuals who are overweight may have an increased risk for COVID-19, which gave him a sense of urgency to better his health. Jeff also shared that it is imperative that you, “Set a goal and commit to it and know that every healthy action you take, no matter how small, will bring you closer to that goal”. He continues to get closer to his goal with his commitment to his lifestyle change and encourages others to find what works for them, whether it is health classes, programs, or fitness challenges.
Eileen Fihlman was working overseas when she heard one of her coworkers talk about the American Heart Association, an organization her coworker was very active in. This made her want to start volunteering, not only because of what the AHA does, but also because her husband has a history of heart disease in his family. As she has volunteered with the AHA, she has been able to talk about heart disease and help people see they need to change the risk behaviors they are engaging with and the pre-existing conditions that give rise to heart disease. This has not been all, as she has also been able to incorporate things into her professional life. She explains how at first going overseas jogging and exercising got harder, but then she introduced Walking Wednesday at her work. This initiative had people at her work go on a walk and they would have 3-5 people at each session. As the pandemic hit this effort was affected as they could not be in the office, but this did not stop her. She got people to keep walking and record their steps in Fitbit and Apple watches. As she explains why she wanted to start this program she said the following: “I wanted people to keep physically active and move around in order to help their physical and mental health, also to help them to sleep well at night.” This effort was fruitful as they have recorded over a million steps walked! She says for those who want to volunteer or help in their own communities to do it and “if you can stay physically active and encourage others you can be around longer with your family and through your example you can help others in their life and in their health.”
Joy Jones has always enjoyed exercising; it’s even seen in her work as a playwright and author. This is especially evident in her latest book, Jayla Jumps In. The book is about an 11-year-old girl who starts a team of double Dutch jumpers and how that helps her stay healthy. The main character has a mom who has to battle her high blood pressure or hypertension and uses exercise to do so. In 2004, Joy Jones organized a double Dutch team, DC Retro Jumpers, and it has grown to participate in countless community demonstrations around Washington, DC and abroad. This group would have not been successful without the help of some key members: Robbin Ebb, Myra Morgan, and Carlyle Prince. The book’s plot also mirrors reality as Joy’s mom has been diagnosed with high blood pressure and uses exercise to control it. This reality inspired Joy to volunteer with the American Heart Association. Explaining why she decided to join: “Seeing an organization focus on the needs of the people like my mom, inspired me to begin volunteering.” Due to her efforts, she has been able to talk and inspire many with her passion for heart health and spread information about it as well.
Anshul Sandhuja has worked hard to improve his lifestyle. He has faced many challenges throughout his life including a diagnosis of pre-diabetes as well as a mood disorder, which impacted his health and led to weight gain. He worked hard to overcome these challenges without medication by following his physician’s recommendations and changing his lifestyle to include more exercise as well as a meal prep routine. Due to a car accident last year, where he fractured his left femur, Anshul gained weight that he had previously lost and often felt helpless since he was no longer able to drive or do daily activities such as going to the gym or grocery shopping. From therapy, he was able to gain back his muscle and strength and actively changed his lifestyle to achieve his goals. One of Anshul’s goals is to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), this motivated him to increase his physical activity by going to the gym and on hikes throughout the week. He also participated in several walks for organizations to raise money while improving his fitness including his recent participation in AHA’s annual Heart Walk. Along with his increased physical activity, Anshul focused on healthy eating and adopting a diet with increased fruits and vegetables, although, COVID made some food items difficult to find over the past several months. He also continues to practice preventative care by monitoring his blood pressure at home and going to regular doctor visits. Through his efforts and lifestyle changes, Anshul has seen improvements through both his blood pressure readings and weight-loss. He shared that his motivation to make these changes came from something his father would tell him, “Growing up, my dad always taught me there are two important organs one is the heart the other is the brain; If these two are working properly, the person is ok.” He continues to improve both of these organs through his commitment to his lifestyle change and continued education to become an EMT.
Lee Stroy, a family man and father of five, had thought stroke happened to older people, but would never imagine it would happen to him at age 37. On December 23rd, 2014, a few days before Christmas, he woke up with numbness on his left side. After realizing his situation, he tried to get his wife’s attention and after what seemed like 20 minutes of incoherent mumbling, he finally was successful. She immediately called 911 and after an MRI and a CAT scan, Lee was diagnosed with a stroke. This was not the only time it happened as he got two other strokes in the next few days. All these things happening debilitated him at first as he could not do the things he could do before, but he managed to change his perspective. “I had to allow myself to go through different emotions to begin my recovery physically. Change…Especially involuntary change, is a process.” He also began making changes, especially he changed his diet and he quit smoking. As he talks about those changes, he attributes them to having a family and wanting to see them grow up. As he has changed, he also has realized what those changes mean to him. He said: “Change means a lot to me; it means growth and it means health and the one thing with change is one needs to be consistent in the process and the change has made me more knowledgeable about where to improve and be honest with myself.”
Congratulations to all of this past year’s honorees of the Healthy For Good Lifestyle Change Awards presented by Kaiser Permanente. We are thrilled to keep up with their progress and applaud them for taking steps to live longer, healthier lives.
For more information and resources on making strides in your health, visit: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-for-good-sign-up
It’s never too early to join the fun all-year round with the Greater Washington Region Heart Walk.
Sharing the stories of the work of the American Heart Association to remove the barriers of health in all communities is my passion.