Oakwood Healthy Hearts for Women program helps with challenges

Photo courtesy Oakwood Healthcare System

Detroit Vibe Tribe Zumba instructors Christy Baas (first row left), Cindy DeBiasi and Susan Stokely have been working with Oakwood Healthy Hearts for Women participants Cindy Mansfield (first row right), Paula Rivera-Kerr (second row left), Peggy Manchester, Kay Hunt, Susan Stolkey, Connie Bilicki Katherine Larson, Louise Ames, Jane Rosebrough, Susan Tamaroglio, Madge Bac, Joan Condon and Arlene Dutchay.

DEARBORN — For many women, finding a balance between career, family, personal health and numerous other responsibilities can be a challenge.

Searching for that balance can cause stress, grief, poor eating habits and a lack of activity – all of which are unhealthy habits that can contribute to heart disease, the leading cause of death of women in the United States.

In 2006, Oakwood Healthcare System partnered with the Ford Motor Co. Fund in a five-year study into women’s heart health using personal cardiac coaches. What started out as a study targeted at reducing the risk of heart disease in women has evolved into a network of support and the creation of an extensive list of health-related resources.

Kay Hunt, 65, of Lincoln Park, is in her fifth and final year of the program that she credits with saving her life.

“I lost my husband, found out I was diabetic and my 88-year-old mother started to go downhill with her Alzheimer’s,” Hunt said. “I tell everyone if I hadn’t been in this study and taking all the different classes offered I don’t know how I would’ve handled the stress in my life. This is truly the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”

The Oakwood Healthy Hearts for Women program makes health goals, good nutrition and exercise more accessible. All of the women involved in the study have been identified as at-risk for heart disease. Of the 400 metropolitan Detroit women chosen for the study, Hunt is one of about 200 participants selected to receive access to classes and activities and work one-on-one with a personal coach.

While some may have a physical limitation, that doesn’t stop them from trying new things, including classes on stress and relaxation, yoga, building your best life and, most recently, the Latin inspired workout known as Zumba.

Recently, about 15 members of the program joined Dearborn-based Zumba instructor team, Detroit Vibe Tribe, for a modified version of the class.

“Zumba is a latin-inspired dance fitness party that is capturing the attention of people all over the world –of all ages, backgrounds and fitness levels,” said Christy Baas, co-owner of Vibe Fit. “We were very excited to work with the Healthy Hearts women. We made modifications so the workout could be done in a chair and at a lower impact to the body. Our goal was for the women to have fun so they will continue to make exercise a healthy, happy part of their lives.”

While the study is still in progress and won’t be complete for another year, the various classes, activities and other coaching sessions are meant to help women in their quest for a balanced and healthy life.

Peggy Manchester, one of three personal cardiac coaches involved with the program, has been working with participants for the past five years.

“What I’ve realized as a coach is that it’s really about the whole person and how they are handling their life and their stress and how engaged they are,” Manchester said. “It’s really about meeting the person where they are in order to help them make goals and break those goals down into manageable baby steps.”

Aside from participating in personal coaching sessions and taking part in a variety of health and wellness oriented classes, the network itself has also become a support system and motivator for the women involved. Louise Ames, 63, of Allen Park, said she realized the value in having such a support system when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“If I hadn’t gotten the support that I had, I wouldn’t have made it,” Ames said.

The first 200 women who signed up for the study will complete the program and graduate in July.

For more information about Women’s Heart Health, go to www.Oakwood.org.