For 25 years, Mindy Morrow took blood pressure medication. Still her blood pressure remained persistently high. Her doctor added another medication a few years ago to try to lower it and it didn't work. It sounded like Morrow needed a third blood pressure medication. The then 53-year-old also learned her cholesterol was high and she’d need to take a prescription for that, too.
“I felt so scared. My family, unfortunately, does not have good cardiovascular health. My grandfather had died of a heart attack at age 56. I knew that number was just creeping right up on me,” the now 55-year-old mom of five from Lawrence, Kansas, told TODAY. “For me to be following right in line with all of that terrified me. I felt so helpless. I did not feel I had any choice.”
While Morrow “blindly assumed” that heart disease and early death would be inevitable, her doctor felt otherwise.
“The cardiologist told me that just because my family had (heart attacks and strokes) happen to them that didn't have to be my future,” Morrow said. “I started to be more hopeful and inquire more about maybe there being something I can do.”
Morrow started by following a heart healthy nutritional plan, which helped her lose weight. She also started moving more. It was tough: Being overweight meant that many of her joints ached when she walked and she often had headaches. So she started simply by walking to the mailbox. Then she’d walk down the road. Then a little further than that. She’d try to push herself a little each time.
“I remember my son said, ‘Come on, Mama, let’s go for a walk,' and I just got started,” she said. “I started talking to myself instead of listening to myself. I kept telling myself, you can do this, just keep going and stop listening to the excuses I created in my mind.”
As she began walking longer distances and feeling stronger, she started running.
“I started running up hills and setting more goals for myself,” she said. “Now I run every single day and it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. The pain lessens when we become more active.”
In October 2019, she even ran a 5K and came in second for her age group. After a year of following a heart healthy diet, Morrow shed 72 pounds. But she found herself bored with it and wanted to do something more sustainable for her life. She followed a Mediterranean diet and went gluten-free, but in July she became a vegan and lost another 10 pounds. She now weighs 125 pounds. What’s more, she no longer needs to take any medication for her cholesterol or blood pressure.
“That is one thing I’m so proud of,” Morrow explained. “They weaned me off both those medications and I have not been on them for over a year.”
Morrow no longer fears dying prematurely.
“I do have a future past 56 years old; when my grandfather died. I just always assumed I'm going to probably die of a heart attack or a stroke,” she said. “I can focus on prevention.”
Morrow shares tips for others interested in developing healthy habits.
1. What is your why?
Like many, Morrow struggled with her new eating habits and especially exercising every day. But then she remembered why she was doing it.
“It’s not easy in the beginning,” she said. “Stay focused on why you’re really wanting to do to it. Is it to lose weight or get off medication? You set your own goals. And once you accomplish those there’s just no stopping.”
2. Find support.
Having a doctor willing to talk through healthy eating and exercise habits helped Morrow. But having her family behind her made losing weight and maintaining the loss easier.
“One reason I feel like I've been able to be successful is because of my family being so supportive. We sit down together and plan out our recipes, and we've made it fun,” she said. “We did it together as a family. My husband has lost weight. My mom, she's been (in a) wheelchair and has high blood pressure, she has lost 100 pounds in the last year, and I'm so, so proud.”
3. 'Keep going.'
Adopting healthy habits and losing weight is hard. When Morrow felt discouraged, she would tell herself to put one foot in front of the other.
“Remind yourself to just keep going. Don’t listen to the excuses,” she said. “Just start right now. There will be no regrets and you’re so worth it."