Utah Valley Hospital developed the 100-Day Heart Challenge a decade ago because heart disease is the number one killer of women, and most women aren’t aware of their risk. The challenge addresses three underlying causes of heart disease: poor diet and nutrition, lack of exercise and poor stress management. Each year, Utah County women are invited to apply for the program and at least ten women (and their partners) are invited to improve their heart health.
The partnerships are assigned a trainer who develops cardio and weight training workouts tailored to each participant’s abilities and needs. They attend two weekly exercise sessions with their trainer and are encouraged to work out on their own during the week. Participants also attend a weekly nutrition class taught by a registered dietitian.
The 100-day time frame gives them enough time to make meaningful and sustainable lifestyle changes. To measure progress, each participant’s heart disease risk factors are tested at the beginning and end of each challenge, including:
- HDL & LDL cholesterol
- Blood pressure
- Waist circumference
- Blood sugar
- Body fat percentage
- Heart rate
Participants also report their food intake and the number of days they exercise each week, allowing each person to practice and apply the new habits they’re forming. “The great thing about the heart challenge is it identifies the less visible signs of disease,” says Jane Fox, Cardiovascular Services Director at Utah Valley Hospital. “One woman, who was in the challenge in 2008, didn’t even come to celebrate with us when the challenge was over because she was so disappointed she didn’t lose much weight. But her cholesterol dropped 101 points, and her triglycerides decreased by 272 points. She significantly reduced her risk of heart disease by making lifestyle changes.”
Traci Heiner, Cardiac Rehab Supervisor at Utah Valley Hospital, has helped run the challenge since the beginning, and she says results like this aren’t unusual. The 2014 winner lost more than 30 pounds over the course of the 100 days and has kept it off for a year and a half. Although not all participants have dramatic success stories like this, the average challenge participant loses 15 pounds, drops 44 points in triglycerides, loses almost 3% of their body fat and reduces waist circumference by nearly 4 inches.
There are other benefits too. One participant was able to have much needed back surgery because of the weight she lost during the challenge. Melissa Garver, who finished the challenge in May of 2016, says, “My children watched the way my eating habits changed during the challenge, and now they come up and report their servings of fruits and veggies to me. It’s changed the way our family eats.”
This year, Utah Valley Hospital is holding an Alumni Heart Challenge for the first time. “The Alumni Challenge is an extension of what we’re already doing,” says Traci. “New habits may not take the first time, but we’re giving people the tools to make lasting changes. Thirty percent of the alumni we invited want to take the challenge again. The alumni will also serve as mentors to support the next generation of participants. Our goal is to build a healthy community by preventing heart disease rather than treating it after the fact.”
Kena Jo Mathews, who completed the challenge in 2015 and will be an Alumni Challenge participant this fall, summed up her Heart Challenge experience by saying, “The 100-Day Heart Challenge changed my life for the better. It transformed my physical and emotional health and inspired me to want a healthy future. I eat much healthier and make exercise a huge priority in my life. I also am able to do so much more now and accomplish things that I never thought I would be able to do. I'm so grateful.”