A social media initiative aims to educate and inspire positive change in diet and exercise habits and to promote heart health among multicultural women.
By Diana Price
For renowned personal trainer and Nike-sponsored athlete Ary Nuñez, encouraging women to exercise and live a heart-healthy lifestyle is a personal issue: “I’ve lost my aunt and my grandmother to heart disease,” she says.
Ary, a native New Yorker who trained in dance and martial arts from a young age, has built her professional career around fitness, but she knows that for many women getting fit and eating well can be a challenge.
That’s why when the opportunity to engage other women and create community around health and fitness through the American Heart Association #GoRedGetFit initiative arose, Ary jumped on it.
The American Heart Association’s and Macy’s program, launched this past March, aims to “build a groundswell of multicultural women engaged in changing social norms and behaviors around eating and physical activity” through four 12-week online challenges combining fitness and nutrition goals. Ary is one of three celebrity trainers—together with Lita Lewis and Scott Parker—who will interact with and support women who choose to participate, through Facebook through February 2017.
By offering women tips and education about nutrition and fitness via social media and providing personal support, Ary hopes to inspire simple, effective steps toward a healthier lifestyle: “My goal is to be an example for others and to end this trend of heart disease.”
While all women can benefit from the mission of #GoRedGetFit, statistics related to women of color reflect the need for continued efforts to inspire heart-healthy lifestyles. According to the American Heart Association, “Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanics, and only one in three Hispanic women is aware that heart disease is their number-one killer.”
Among African-American women, according to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is responsible for 50,000 deaths annually, and 49 percent of African-American women ages 20 and older have heart disease.
Ileana Pina, MD, MPH, a nationally renowned cardiologist, professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and an American Heart Association spokesperson, says she is hopeful that #GoRedGetFit, which is aimed at women ages 27 to 34, will offer tools and shape behaviors that will carry through a woman’s life. “Bad habits start early,” she says. “It’s easy to become complacent.”
The cost of this complacency, Dr. Pina says, has been an alarming “new normal”: “We’re living in an era when obesity seems to have become the norm, bringing with it hypertension and so many other issues—primarily the result of unhealthy eating and lack of exercise.”
When she works with patients to educate them about the value of exercise and a heart-healthy diet, Dr. Pina says, she strives to deliver a simple message: “Inactivity is associated with mortality; the less active you are, the higher your risk; the more you exercise, the lower your risk.”
Equally simple, Ary notes, are the steps toward integrating more activity into your day: “You can fit walking into your lunch break; you can push a stroller to the park—so many daily activities allow you to exert energy and burn calories.”
Added to these clear, accessible messages about exercise that the program will promote are tips about healthy eating and the need for a heart-healthy approach to diet. Through the program, women learn exactly what they need to do to live a healthy life.
“In my family and in the Latino culture, the way we love is by getting together and feeding one another,” Ary says. “But let’s get educated about the way we’re eating. We don’t need supersized meals. Let’s have the foods we love and the treats that are meaningful to us, but let’s think about what we’re eating.”
Dr. Pina agrees, noting the power that women have to transform behaviors around food and exercise: “Women are usually the cooks in our households; if we can get them to cook more healthfully, the whole family will benefit.”
For Ary, the fact that these messages can be delivered through a social media campaign is key for effecting change today: “Social media allows everyone the opportunity to connect and become educated and to relate to one another.” While the personal inspiration will be vital for women who participate, the opportunity to help others will also help drive change, Ary notes. “When you can help another woman live a better life, you feel great. Social media creates such a powerful tool to help us communicate.”
Ultimately, Ary says, she hopes that her efforts to promote heart health through #GoRedGetFit will help women put their well-being at the top of their to-do list. “I want all women to know: We matter. Think about yourself as a priority.”
Women can participate in the challenge by joining the #GoRedGetFit Facebook group. The quarterly challenges are designed to yield optimal results through lifestyle changes. Each challenge will last about 12 weeks—the amount of time it takes for a behavior to become a habit. These are the challenges:
“Take Steps and Drop Sweets” (March– May): Walk 10,000 steps per day and limit sugar intake to 24 grams per day.
"Up the Beat And Keep It 100” (June– August): Get 30 minutes of cardio per day at least five days per week and strive to choose water 100 percent of the time.
“I Run This Salty Shaker” (September– November): Get 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week and limit sodium consumption to 1,500 milligrams per day.
“Follow the Lead to Flawless” (December– February): Scripted exercises of the trainers’ choices and limit saturated-fat consumption to 12 grams per day.