From underweight to overweight and everything in between, it seems as if body image has always been an issue in my life. As a young lady, I was very thin and struggled to gain weight. Subsequently, I was frequently ill, suffering with anemia, low blood pressure, asthma, chronic bronchitis, etc. Later in life, after becoming pregnant, my metabolism went in the opposite direction. At first, I thought it was cute how I was gaining so much weight, only to realize, after giving birth, that all that extra weight wasn't so cute after all. I gained 100 pounds with my first pregnancy and 65 pounds with my second. At my heaviest, I weighed over 215 pounds. I was then faced with the dilemma of losing weight, a concept that was completely foreign to me. I started on a journey of learning how to exercise and watch my diet so I did what any determined, young mother would do: I bought the latest fitness video and two cases of the most popular meal-replacement weight-loss shakes. And it worked... for two weeks that is. Until it was someone's birthday or I was invited to some special event. I would fall off the wagon which caused me to be completely unmotivated to exercise. And the cycle begun: losing weight, gaining weight, losing less weight, gaining even more weight, and so on. One day, I was invited to play soccer with a group of girlfriends. We were coached by an ex-military former professional soccer player whose idea of training was more like torturing a group of people who had done him wrong in a former life and he was out for vengeance! I hurt everywhere and loved every minute of it. I felt alive and empowered. And something very interesting happened. The harder I worked on being fit, fast and agile, the less I worried about dieting and the more careful I became about the foods I used for fuel. I realized that mental motivation, a clear intention and sound information were key to living a healthy, fit life.
This is why I was so excited when I heard about Go Red Por Tu Corazón. This campaign by the American Heart Association, and nationally sponsored by Macy's, got my attention because it "talked to me" in my language -- Spanglish. Their title was written the way I grew up speaking at home and among my friends. Although I personally haven't suffered from heart disease, I plan to keep it that way and am very interested in helping others do the same, including my mother who suffers from high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When I began to learn the statistics available through Go Red Por Tu Corazón, I was shocked to find out that each year, 1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke, and that Latinas are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women. But when I found out that 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier and through physical activity, I knew I had to get involved.
Aside from teaching fitness classes, giving nutrition workshops and providing CPR training, I am passionate about traveling throughout the country, speaking at corporate events, community fundraisers and whenever given the opportunity to help educate women about the dangers of heart disease, its misunderstood symptoms and changes that can be made to prevent these risks. To inspire a woman towards improvement is to inspire a family, a neighborhood, an entire community. As women, we are the main influencers in our home and for our children, who learn from example. A child who learns healthy habits because they are practiced at home, becomes a teenager who will make better choices and an adult with less risks of illnesses, including many related to heart disease.
As a daughter, sister, mother, businesswoman and philanthropist, I understand that a busy lifestyle isn't always conducive to healthy living. Nevertheless, when one's health and the health of those we love is a priority, lifestyle changes can easily be made to include regular exercise and healthy meal choices in our daily routines. We must learn to eat and exercise as if our lives depend on it, because the truth is, they do.
February is American Heart Month and it is a great time to reflect on our health and get back on track, making healthy lifestyle changes for our familia.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women in recognition of National Wear Red Day (Feb. 6, 2015), the aim of which is to raise awareness that today women are more likely than men have heart disease or a stroke, and 1 in 3 will die. But 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. To read all the stories in the series, visit here. And to follow the conversation on Twitter -- and share a picture of yourself wearing red -- find the hashtag #GoRedSelfie.