The heart is a universal symbol of love. Aptly enough, love is the key to a healthy heart.
Self-love, to be more specific, is the key to helping women overcome heart disease, explains Jill Zahm, program coordinator at the Parkview Heart Institute. As the No. 1 killer of women, heart disease tends to present itself with more subtle symptoms in women than in men.
“A lot of times, we dismiss symptoms until it’s too late," Zahm says. "On top of that, we tend to take care of everyone else before we take care of ourselves."
Zahm oversees the Her Heart Challenge, a free program that brings together a small group of women to improve their health.
“This is not a weight, cholesterol, or blood sugar program,” she explains. “It’s about learning to love yourself. When you learn that, everything else falls into place.”
The program teaches mindfulness, stress reduction, exercise, journaling, nutrition, and more.
The Her Heart Challenge, which is now accepting applications for the class of 2019, brings together 25 women of all ages and backgrounds to discover a path to self-love, and therefore, a healthier heart. The program kicks off with a weekend retreat in August and concludes with a celebration during the annual Love Your Heart Expo in February.
“Women have a tendency to tear each other down,” Zahm says. “We want to build each other up. I like to say we’re saving the world 25 women at a time.”
Challenge graduate Jeanette Bernath is no stranger to heart disease. Her father died at age 63 from a massive heart attack. Her mother died at 68 due to complications from surgery for congestive heart failure. At 41, her husband miraculously survived a “widow maker” heart attack. Most recently, her sister passed away at age 68 due to congestive heart failure, a complication from her diabetes.
Knowing her family history and the devastating effects of heart disease, Jeanette felt compelled to attend the 2018 Love Your Heart Expo.
“I went by myself. It was totally out of my comfort zone,” she says. “When I got there, I saw another gal, and she looked just as lost as I did. So I asked, ‘Are you here with anybody?’ and she said no. We ended up sitting together at a table. As luck would have it, two former Challenge participants also sat at our table. They couldn’t stop talking about their wonderful experience.”
A big aspect of Her Heart Challenge is helping women build relationships with one another.
It was kismet. Jeanette was accepted into the Her Heart Challenge class of 2018.
“At first I thought, ‘I’m going to lose weight,’ but this is not a weight loss program," she explains. "This is about loving yourself and being kind to yourself."
Jeanette says she learned about mindfulness, stress reduction, exercise, journaling, nutrition, and more. More importantly, she learned to set smart goals and formed habits she could check off at the end of the day–like walking or drinking water.
“Those little check marks add up to lifestyle changes,” she says.
Women who participate in Her Heart Challenge learn healthy eating habits.
According to Jeanette, the group setting was the most powerful part of the program.
“Change is not easy, but you’re likely not going to do it by yourself," she notes. "Women need friends. A lot of us are busy or isolated and just don’t have time to make those connections.”
She encourages other women considering the program to "do it for yourself."
"You need to do something not because your doctor or husband wants you to, but because you want to," she says. "We can do it together.”
Take the Challenge
To learn more about the Her Heart Challenge and download an application, visit Parkview.com/heart. Applications are due by June 1, 2019. Selected participants will be notified of their acceptance by June 20.
Save the Dates!
The Her Heart Challenge includes interactive sessions to help participants identify their personal risk factors for heart disease, discover resources to decrease those risks and support other women in their effort to achieve personal heart health goals. All you need to bring is an open heart.
June 1 – Applications due
Aug. 9-10 – Retreat
Aug. 13-Nov. 5 – Tuesday evening meetings, 5:30-7 p.m.
Dec. 3 – Check-in No. 1
Jan. 7 – Check-in No. 2
Feb. 20 – Final Celebration at the Love Your Heart Expo