Bridget Parris (right) volunteered to be part of PhD student Bianca Share’s research into cardiovascular health in young women, and lost 10 kilograms in the process. Natalie Sanders caught up with them to see what the results say for heart health.
Bianca Share, PhD student
“Cardiovascular health can be an elephant in the room. It is a health condition which impacts many people but is often swept under the rug and ignored, especially when concerning young women. In women, having a waist circumference of above 80 centimetres doubles your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
Young women are an age group that has been neglected in current research – they are perceived as being healthy, of childbearing age and in the prime of their life. The results are showing that women in my target age group of 18 to 30 with a raised waist circumference are still mostly within normal healthy limits.
What we are now trying to do is get in early and educate these women about the potential risks of having a raised waist circumference before they reach the postmenopausal stage and it is too late. The study was based on increasing fitness, educating the women in nutrition, and providing cognitive behaviour therapy aimed at overcoming barriers which might prevent the women exercising and achieving their goals.
Each week the groups trained with me twice in cardio and strength and once in their own time. We tried to make the sessions social and fun rather than slogging it out at the gym. Bridget is one of my most successful participants so far. She lost 10kg in total and 16.6cm off her waist – reducing her waist circumference to below 80 cm.
She is definitely in the healthy weight range now. One of the challenges we do as part of the training is maximum push-ups in one minute. At the beginning of program, Bridget could only manage 13 push-ups, but by the end she could manage more than 50. She achieved all of this by working hard – she was very dedicated. Once Bridget finished with the training sessions, she was still really conscious about making the effort with healthy food choices.
It is great to know that once you have educated women they can then take it upon themselves to care about their overall health. Even if I have only helped a handful of women, then the study has been worthwhile.”
Bridget Parris, study participant
“I had never really thought about my cardiovascular health prior to this study. I knew I had put on weight over the past few years but I was in a beautiful state of denial. I assumed I was healthy and that cardiovascular disease was one of those things that happen to other people. Bianca came to speak to my biology class about the study but I was sure I wouldn’t qualify.
When I got home I decided to see what my waist measurement was, just for a laugh – turns out it was actually more than 80cm so I did qualify. The next thing I knew I was nervously waiting to meet Bianca for my initial testing, and as it turned out my cholesterol was pushing the point where I would have required medication.
I joined the study to lose weight but also to feel healthy and better about myself. I’ve got a family history of cardiovascular disease – and heart attacks and diabetes are not things that I wish to experience. My life before the study involved a lot of television – I don’t even know how I managed to fit in that much television.
The only activity in my week would be going out dancing on weekends. I also struggled with portion control and snacking throughout the day. The study was great because it allowed us to change without cutting things out completely. So I still have my bag of salt and vinegar chips, but it might be once a month instead of every day.
We were taught tips for healthy eating, such as increasing the amount of vegetables in a meal to bulk it out, rather than bulking it out with rice or pasta.
Bianca is a bubbly person and we get on really well. I think you get to know someone quite quickly when they are doing an echocardiogram on you and you have to take your top off! Her study has helped me become a lot more confident with the way I look and dress. I dropped two dress sizes and feel a lot happier.
I actually enjoy exercise now, which is different for me.
I still enjoy going out dancing but my routine also involves more than that, proper exercise in daylight hours!”