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American Heart Association Go Red For Women Success Story: Paula Chavez

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This month we’re working with the American Heart Association and inspirational Real Women who have made big, positive changes in their lives through exercise. And we’re helping them go even further, outfitting them with a Fitbit Flex to help take their health and activity to the next level. We’ll be checking in over the next few months with Real Women like Paula to see how Fitbit has motivated them to include physical activity in their daily lives. So stay tuned!

And don’t forget that you can get involved, too. Fitbit Red Flex purchases from May 1st through end of day tomorrow (May 31st) benefit the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women® movement.

Paula Chavez has two simple messages for women struggling to make health changes: No more guilt. No more excuses. This became her personal mantra following an annual physical a few years ago. 

Paula Chavez

Just 32 at the time, her doctor warned her that some changes had to be made if she were going to live long enough to see her grandchildren. Her goal of better health became even more important last year, after her father passed away from a sudden heart attack.

“My father died before he was able to meet my youngest child and I really struggle with that,” Paula says. “I was passionate about this topic before because of my own health issues. Now I am on a mission to help stop this disease.”

Paula’s journey to better health began after her second child was born in 2010.  She was extremely overweight and battling high cholesterol. “You won’t see a single photo of me from that time because I never went anywhere and didn’t want pictures taken,” she says.

Paula’s shame about her appearance, combined with her doctor’s recommendation that she take cholesterol medication, made her realize it was time to change. “Why would I take medication for something that I knew I could control with diet and exercise?” she asked herself.

Making changes wasn’t easy. Her 70-pound weight loss journey, which took more than a year, began with small steps. She started exercising a little every day and making family recipes healthier. “I’m Hispanic and grew up eating a lot of animal products and thinking you had to fry most things to make them taste good,” she says. “ I didn’t diet to lose the weight. I completely transformed the way I ate.”

Little by little, Paula added more fruits and vegetables to her diet and began cooking differently. Soon healthy living became a family affair. When her husband started getting healthier too, his own cholesterol and blood pressure numbers started to improve. Before her father died, Paula encouraged both him and her mother to transform their eating habits.

Though they lived in Colombia and Paula lives in New Jersey, Paula enjoyed “sharing” family meals again because they talked about the foods they were preparing each day. Sharing what she’s learned with family and friends has become a calling. Paula, a certified fitness instructor, started a free fitness club at a local school one night per week.

She uses social media to share heart-healthy tips and has online “friends” she has never met rooting her on and thanking her for helping them live healthier lives. Her advice for living a heart-healthy life? “Become aware of your family medical history and learn your cholesterol and blood pressure levels,” says Paula.  “Have a conversation with your doctor about your heart disease risk factors and about recommendations for a healthy lifestyle.”

With a part-time job and three children ages 11 months, 3 and 10, Paula can relate to women who are juggling the demands of family and career. But her own health is now top priority. “What good does it do my family if I am not here in the long run to take care of them?” she says. “I am taking care of me and setting an example for my kids, who now see that healthy eating and exercise are just part of our family routine.”

One Response leave one →
  1. Maggie permalink
    June 1, 2014

    Ten years ago, I went to the doctor for my annual physical. I was 51 at the time. I asked for a bone density test to establish a baseline because I began menopause 12 years earlier. The doctor said I was too young for the change or a bone density test. I told him that it was covered under my insurance and I demanded a bone density test…and I WAS going through the change not matter what his text books said. I finished the physical, including the bone density test, listening to comments about how I was too young for this the whole while.

    The next morning, I received an urgent call from the doctor at my office. The nurse said to come in to the doctor’s office as soon as possible. This scared me, to say the least and asked for leave to go immediately. When I arrived and checked in, a nurse came out and took me in the back. She handed me a couple of boxes of medication and a prescription. Puzzled, I asked what this medication was. She said it is Actonel, to be taken weekly. I had osteoporosis in my lower lumbar. In my shock, she threw some numbers at me that I barely remember….-2, -2, -1, -1. Those weren’t the exact numbers, but the first number was the 4th lumbar and they go up my lower back from there. I do remember her saying minus numbers are not good. Ironically, my first lucid thought was I was too young for osteoporosis. To add to my stress, she also said my cholesterol was over 200.

    Besides the Actonel, she said weight loss and exercise, including good stress, was vital in managing or impacting the disease. I got a gym membership and started working out. I lost some weight and became stronger. For the next few years I just maintained my weight and didn’t increase my exercise regimen. In 2007, I decided to take control of my weight and exercise. I engaged a trainer at my gym and explained about my back. For a year, I worked hard with the guidance of a trainer. I started working out on my own by the end of 2008, I had lost 40 pounds. In early 2009, I went for a physical, told them about the osteoporosis, and they ordered a bone density test.

    A couple of days later, the doctor called and told me my cholesterol was 180, although I needed to work on the balance of good and bad cholesterol. I was happy to hear that my morning Cheerios or oatmeal was helpful. When she didn’t mention the bone density test, I asked about the results. She said in a matter-of-fact, no-big-deal voice that the test was within normal range. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had beat the osteoporosis into submission….or maybe remission. Whichever….she said I didn’t have to take Boniva ( I had changed during the 5 years to the monthly dose) anymore. I felt so blessed that day, so very blessed.

    I have worked over the past 4 years to get stronger and healthier…and if I lose weight along the way, cool beans. Last year, during my physical, my cholesterol was 170. Recently, my blood pressure was 108/60. I have tracked and logged my activities in a wellness log. Thanks to my Fitbit Zip, I have been able to track my activity easier and online. I decided to embrace the entire Fitbit program, that is diet and exercise, a couple of weeks ago. Because of the tracking and charts, I can see that I am progressing, even if it’s only baby steps. My younger daughter finally got a Zip and she and I are Friends on the website. I’m working on my other 2 kids to join us.

    Thank you, Fitbit, for helping me manage my weight loss and exercise.

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