Go Red for Women motivates journalists to improve their health

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There they were, two brand new scales to weigh me.

It had been at least seven months, but the time had come. My annual medical exam was fast approaching.

I nervously stepped on the first scale: 224 pounds.

Wait what? It can’t be right. I just ate before that. On my way down, I moved the scale near the trash can and quickly dismissed the first inaccurate reading. “That’s just wrong,” I persuaded myself.

I climbed the second scale: 224.6 lbs? ?

Oh my god, nooooo.

Enough of that. I withdrew from the “weigh-in”.

Now for blood pressure: 132/87. Higher than I would like, but I’m sure there’s an excuse.

Pulse: 85. “Should it be lower in the morning?” I was thinking. “I didn’t even have tea, let alone coffee.” By mastering my self-measured vital signs, I felt concerned.

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I’m used to long periods of sitting and working, eating in front of the computer, putting in longer hours when needed. I get up and walk back. I feel good.

So why were my numbers painting a different picture?

My precious mom passed away in 2013 at the age of 70. She had seemed to be the picture of health in her fifties.

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I thought of my three children. They had grown up with virtually no grandparents in their lives and barely remember them. I remember their disappointment every year on Grandparents Day. The time will come when our children will start their own lives. Perhaps they will also want children. I have to do my part to try to live a longer life.

“I have to buckle up,” I thought.

There is hope

As a little girl growing up in the South, watching Black, beautiful older faces in church in the 1970s, I had imagined, “How do people get old?” I thought about aging over the years. It is a remarkable part of life.

“If God gives me the chance to see a long life, I will be a graceful, kind and elegant old person,” I thought to myself.

I thought about the cholesterol medicine, sitting on my bedside table. It’s my only prescribed medication and it’s optional, but I took my doctor’s advice and (finally) started taking it in 2020. That’s because I realized I had needed help managing my cholesterol and that I hadn’t been able to reach my goals. I remember that I want to see old age one day.

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At 57, I am the second oldest woman in my family. Only one woman is older.

She is 59 years old.

And just like that, I feel the pressure to change more than ever.

According to the American Heart Association, women who look like me have nearly twice the risk of stroke as white women and are more likely to die at an earlier age, compared to women of other ethnicities. Cardiovascular disease kills nearly 50,000 black women every year, yet only 36% of black women know that heart disease is their biggest health risk.

Thirty-six percent.

It’s awful.

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I survived a tough childhood, dangerous accidents, two terms of military service and yet I missed this huge threat to women.

There is hope.

Across the country, women are engaging in an eight-week awareness campaign that featured several events in Go Red for Women’s heart health. I am now working diligently to improve mine – morning, noon and night.

Participating in the campaign was a life-changing event.

My trip

I gained weight after a walking injury caused by plantar fasciitis in 2020, coupled with a misstep while jumping off my porch. This lamentable double-injured foot greatly reduced daily chores. Things as basic as walking in Wegmans suddenly disappeared from my life.

I saw a specialist every few months. My daughter Jasmine taught me foot exercises and I started walking again without a limp. Although my weight has gone up and down for years, a foot injury changed everything. This time I couldn’t do the usual and jump on the treadmill, ride a bike or walk. I tried Total Gym Fit which got me active and moving again. It took the weight off my foot, but I needed a fundamental change.

“What am I really eating?” I asked myself. Maybe that’s the real problem. The complacency of an injury made it obvious. I had been so busy that I ate out most days and stopped cooking most meals.

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Dr. Brenda Davis from the University of Rochester Medical Center office at Penfield took me under her wing, so to speak. His office has hired me at times, helping me take control of what’s going on through blood tests, recommending a colonoscopy I should have had years ago, asking when I’m going to do this or that and prescribing cholesterol medication.

“I’m not used to that,” I thought to myself. Davis took time, asked probing questions, and really seemed to care. His involvement motivated me to become more preventive by watching over my health, as if I had a partner rather than being alone.

“I can do it,” I concluded.

So I started last fall by joining my daughter Cydney on a lifestyle-fitness app that she follows to manage healthy meals. But she and my other 20s have formed a singing group that rehearses late into the night and they have dinner after 9 p.m. It works for them; me, on the other hand? I hit a plateau after losing only 7 pounds from October to February.

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I would be lying if I said I wasn’t discouraged. Weighing in at 217 pounds at 5ft 3in just didn’t reflect enough improvements in my vital signs, which is what the doctor is putting me through.

Then one day I was scrolling through LinkedIn posts and a request from my Facebook friend Melisza Campos caught my eye. She usually didn’t contact me on LinkedIn.

“As a volunteer for the American Heart Association, I was recently nominated to participate in a campaign called Woman of Impact. The AHA is seeking a select group of women from the Rochester area to participate in an 8-week campaign “, the message mentioned.

Cynthia Benjamin, third from right, director of public engagement and trust for the USA TODAY Network, joined the Go Red for Women Heart Health Campaign in Rochester, NY, to improve her personal heart health.  Melisza Campos of Wegmans, fourth from left in front, is the team leader.

She shared how women can be agents of change by learning to use their voice to take charge of their health.

“Can I do something like this?” ” I asked myself. “As a journalist, I cannot raise funds, but what can I do?

Well, my foot is almost 100% healed. I can donate, participate in a team event and encourage other women. The team recently hosted an event led by fashion designer Nita Brown at its MansaWear clothing and accessories boutique and hosted a celebrity bartender event at Branca city center Italian restaurant, both in Rochester.

Volunteering with women in the Rochester area inspired me to get to work, become more active, and lose weight.

I follow the AHA’s check-in notes, ate a low sodium and low calorie diet (low meat as well) along with a lot more vegetables, water, and exercise. Knowing that I lead a busy life and don’t cook the types of meals I need when I need them, I signed on to Nutrisystem for the time being. This way I only have to prep veggies and have my “smartcarbs” handy. I can always cook whenever I want.

So I stepped on the scale the other morning: 203 pounds. “Progress”, I thought.

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Blood pressure: 112/72. Pulse: 74. Much improved. I feel more centered, definitely encouraged seeing these results.

Now that I am aware and understand that women’s heart health is essential to our lives, I will pursue better health. I want to live longer (for me, my family, my future grandchildren), so I work on my heart.

Cynthia Benjamin is director of engagement and public trust for the USA TODAY Network. Am here @cynthiabenjamn. Contact [email protected]

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