The Live Longer & Stronger challenge—headed by Joy Bauer, RDN, with guidance from experts at the Mayo Clinic—is about more than just lowering the numbers on the scale. Some of these women walked more steps than they'd ever dreamed possible, while others cut out medications they'd been taking for years, leading to greater happiness and healthier hearts. Read on to learn how they found success—and how you can too.
Want to change your life? Apply for the 2017-2018 Live Longer & Stronger Challenge.
Jacqueline Gilmore-Jackson, 48, Wilmington, NC
Lost: 60 lbs
My Motivation: "When my mom passed away from heart failure six years ago, I couldn't bring myself to exercise, and food became my friend. Then, in 2014, I lost my father, who had a history of high blood pressure. I kept it together and continued to go to work and church, even though inside I felt so broken. It wasn't until I met with my physician in December 2015 that I realized I was heading down an unhealthy road. I needed to lose weight, move more and overhaul my eating habits to combat my family history of heart failure, high blood pressure, and diabetes."
Simple Changes, Big Results: "I thought I was walking a decent amount, but once I started using a Fitbit, I saw that I was barely logging 2,000 steps a day. So, I walked in the park with my 18-year-old son to figure out how many loops it would take to reach 10,000 steps. Hitting that target then became routine for me, and I bumped up my goal to achieve 15,000 to 20,000 steps per day. I also made a point to move every hour and ramped up how much produce I eat. Before my fruit smoothies were just that—fruit, but my new favorite blend is banana, leafy greens, carrots, and cucumber."
My Heart Win: "I used to put salt on practically everything—even watermelon. But since I've cut back on sodium, I've lost a whole ring size! I've also lowered my blood pressure, LDL 'bad' cholesterol, and triglycerides."
Jacqueline's Secret to Success: Beat the morning rush."The old me would race into work and be stressed all day. Now, I get in 20 minutes early and take two laps around the building, which helps me feel focused."
Vanitta Bumpers, 47, Crestview, FL
Lost: 52 lbs
My Motivation: "I always knew my habits weren't great, but it seemed like such a big commitment to try to both eat right and exercise. Then, in November 2015, I stopped in to get a health screening at work and I found out I was pre-diabetic. Hearing that diagnosis was a wakeup call—type 2 diabetes is a heart-risk factor, particularly in women. I have a family history of heart disease, and my dad has type 2 diabetes. I've seen him struggle over the years with insulin injections for his diabetes, and knowing that I'm terrified of needles got me thinking—I don't want to develop a disease that I have the power to prevent."
Simple Changes, Big Results: "I recently moved to a different state and started teaching at a new elementary school. I learned that even when life's chaotic, you still have to make time for yourself. In the past, I used to overcommit, but I've started to say, "Let me get back to you," rather than rush to yes. This allows me to check and see if I truly do have time for it. And sometimes, I just have to say no so I can fit in exercise and healthy meal prepping."
My Heart Win: "I feel as energetic as I did when I was a kid! I bought a mini trampoline, and my sister jokes I'll jump through the roof. I'm also no longer pre-diabetic, which makes me jump even higher for joy."
Vanitta's Secret to Success: Make use of downtime."While my dinner is cooking, I march in place to log more steps. If I'm watching TV, I walk around during commercial breaks. It's all about using the time you have and getting creative."
Melanie McShane, 46, Arcadia, CA
Lost: 34 lbs
My Motivation:"At my annual work conference, we always write out our goals for the coming year. Most of my professional ones as a real-estate agent get crossed off, but there was always one goal I couldn't seem to accomplish: lose weight. I struggle with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol, and I'm taking medications for all of them. Plus, I have a family history of heart disease. So this year, when I went to write down that same goal, it clicked—my health needed to be my priority. Because if not now, then when?"
Simple Changes, Big Results: "I've learned to make easy, healthy recipes that my whole family can enjoy, like sautéed turkey sausage with bell peppers and onions. When I tried to change my eating patterns in the past, I felt isolated from what my husband and son were eating—but now I don't have to."
My Heart Win: "I found out at a recent doctor's visit that my blood pressure, cholesterol, A1c [a test for diabetes], and triglycerides were significantly down, and that I could cut two medication doses in half, and completely stop taking one."
Melanie's Secret to Success: Shout out your goals. "I posted on Facebook that I'm trying to get healthier, and the encouragement has been overwhelming. You'd be surprised how many people want to support you."
Amber Duncan, 38, Gladstone, OR
Lost: 45 lbs
My Motivation: "My mom suffers from type 2 diabetes, and after a recent health screening I learned I was pre-diabetic. I have four kids, and I want to be able to see them grow up, without struggling with my health for the rest of my life. I also love to run, and have completed a number of marathons, but I stopped because it was discouraging to be one of the slowest out there."
Simple Changes, Big Results: "I realized that you can't outrun a bad diet. I used to cook about four go-to dishes, but none of them were healthy. I'm now enjoying new, nutritious meals, including fish, which I used to hate!"
My Heart Win: "I've gotten back into running marathons, and at my latest race, I improved my time by 26 minutes. My kids came to watch me and one of my daughters said, 'Mom, you're not the last one anymore!' I've also improved all my health markers—blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides—and best of all, I am no longer pre-diabetic."
Amber's Secret to Success: Snack smarter. "The afternoon—when the kids come home from school and want to snack—used to be my downfall. Now I have something healthy on hand to munch on, like popcorn or celery with peanut butter."
Maryellen Farmer, 57, Ocean Springs, MS
Lost: 30 lbs
My Motivation: "In 2004 I had open-heart valve surgery for an abnormality I was born with. All of the stress I felt afterward caused me to gain nearly 50 pounds. Eventually I managed to lose 18 pounds, but then in 2013 I suffered a heart attack, due to spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). I fell back into hopelessness because my doctors couldn't tell me what I should do to keep it from happening again. So I decided that no matter what, I needed to focus on the things I could change, like my diet and exercise. My 5-year-old grandson, Hunter, gave me the push to get started—there are so many years ahead I want to spend together."
Simple Changes, Big Results: "When I've tried to lose weight in the past, I felt like I was depriving myself. Now I enjoy treats, but I'm better about portions—I recently made mini pumpkin pies."
My Heart Win: "My triglycerides and HDL 'good' cholesterol levels are the best they've ever been. My doctors are thrilled for me, and I am, too."
Maryellen's Secret to Success: Enjoy your favorite food, smarter. "I love going out for Mexican food, but I used to order heavy meals and overdo it on chips and salsa. These days, I get fajitas filled with onions and bell peppers, and I eat fewer chips but lots of healthy salsa."
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Landcruisers.