By getting active, mom reduced her risk of heart disease
Lawrence resident Mindy Morrow knows that her family has a history of heart disease — both her father and her grandfather died from heart attacks. But she also knows that she has a chance to change the pattern by changing her lifestyle.
“I did not want my family’s past to be my future,” she said. “When I received the score from my cardiac calcium test and saw I was falling in line to have a heart attack at an early age, I knew I had to make some serious life changes.”
The mother of five had a variety of worrying symptoms when she first spoke to her physician, Dr. Christina Salazar, about lifestyle changes — “I had high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, every joint in my body ached and I could hardly move,” Morrow said. She had just turned 53, and she wanted to live a full life and not fall into the patterns she had seen loved ones suffer from.
“I had a choice to make,” Morrow said. “I could take more and more medications, or I could get serious about healing my body through nutrition and activity.”
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., said Salazar, a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists of Lawrence. But the good news is that people can lower their risk by making changes to their diet, physical activity and other areas of their lives.
“Prevention is about knowing your risk, knowing your numbers, and this knowledge can lead to changes that can affect your heart and your life,” Salazar said.
Morrow is living proof of that, Salazar said. The cardiologist has known Morrow for about two years, and she said Morrow has worked hard to improve her health and has seen great results.
“What was remarkable was some of the measurements we do, like blood pressure and cholesterol, had significantly changed,” Salazar said. “She no longer needed blood pressure medicine and her cholesterol had reduced to a normal range. Based on those results we can create a risk assessment, and Mindy reduced her risk by lifestyle changes.”
What Morrow did, other people can do as well, as long as they’re willing to put in the work to improve their lives, Salazar said. Morrow understood her risk, worked hard to make serious changes and succeeded.
“This is the story of someone who didn’t have heart disease yet, but wanted to prevent it,” Salazar said. “She reduced her risk without medications, and that is very hard to do. Everyone wants to do this, but it takes work and she was really successful.”
Within a year of increasing her level of physical activity, Morrow had lost 70 pounds. She has kept this weight off to this day and gotten stronger and stronger.
“It was not easy,” she said. “I remember when I first started moving my body I had to have wraps on my knees, and slowly, over time, it got easier. I remember writing in my journal, ‘Just keep going, just keep going,’ and I would show up for myself each day in 110-degree weather or negative-10-degree weather. I don’t focus on a number now; I just focus on feeling good, strong and healthy.”
In October 2019, Morrow completed her first 5K run and got second place in her age group. She now runs 4 to 8 miles a day. She feels better than ever and is proud to no longer be on medications.
“No matter your situation, you can better yourself,” Morrow said. “Find your motivation and fuel it. For me, I wanted to be the best mom for my kids and set a good example. I didn’t want to feel tired, but have more energy to keep up with them. Truly, I feel so strong, energized and healthy — I feel this more and more each day.”
For those who are struggling to work more physical activity into their lives, Morrow’s advice is to just get started. Starting to get active is the hardest part, she said.
Morrow also said she is lucky that she didn’t have a serious heart problem that made her realize the importance of a healthy lifestyle. After focusing on prevention and hitting her goals, she said there was no going back to her old way of life.
“I hope to encourage people to commit to their journey and show up for themselves; they don’t have to feel stuck forever,” Morrow said. “… I hope to motivate others to just move their bodies 30 minutes a day to begin with, keep going and see where that takes them. No matter your age or health condition, you can better yourself and your health any day.”
— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.