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HEART Insight:
doi: 10.1097/01.HEARTI.0000422219.65558.c7

One Pound at a Time

Childers, Linda

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In support of the American Heart Association's healthy-living initiative My Heart. My Life™, Jenny Craig launched My Heart. My Life.™ My Jenny, which focuses on educating the public regarding the significant health risks associated with weight-related diseases, including heart disease and stroke.

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Valerie Bertinelli loses 50 pounds and gets heart healthy

On TV Land's current hit comedy Hot in Cleveland, actress Valerie Bertinelli exudes confidence as divorced mother of two and best-selling author Melanie Moretti. With her contagious smile and outgoing personality, it's hard to imagine that just six years ago Valerie had days when she was reluctant to leave her home.

Twenty-seven years after her debut as teenager Barbara Cooper on the TV sitcom One Day at a Time, Valerie found herself weighing in at 172 pounds—50 pounds heavier than her current weight. “I had no energy, my knees hurt and I wasn't able to walk long distances without panting,” she says. “I was tired of feeling sick and tired.”

Determined to lose the weight once and for all, the actress found further motivation watching her mom, Nancy, struggle with her own weight and health issues.

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Valerie currently st...
Valerie currently st...
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Diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, Nancy was 54 pounds over her optimal weight, and her doctor had told her that a sedentary lifestyle and her poor diet and weight were all putting her at risk of developing cardiac problems.

Although Valerie's cholesterol and blood pressure levels were normal, she realized that middle age is a time when many women tend to develop risk factors for heart disease. While she couldn't change her biologic age, Valerie, now 52, realized there were certain risk factors that she could control–primarily her weight, diet and activity level.

Doctors have long suspected a link between being overweight and an increased risk of chronic health problems including heart disease and diabetes. A large new study, published May 2012 in the journal PLoS Medicine, confirmed a direct link between a high body mass index and the risk of developing heart disease.

Body mass index, or BMI, is an indirect measure of body weight, based on height and weight. People with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 are in the “normal” BMI range, while those with a BMI of 30 or more are obese. Those with a BMI between 25 and 30 are overweight.

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For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 75,000 people and found that those with a high BMI had a 26 percent increased risk of developing heart disease. Further analysis using genetic and other data showed that a BMI increase of four points increases the risk of heart disease by no less than 52 percent.

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Wanting to improve their health, signing up with Jenny Craig signified a new start for both Valerie and her mom.

“I was an emotional eater,” the actress admits. “I learned to change my eating habits, to plan meals and to not just mindlessly eat.”

Valerie began journaling what she ate every day and embracing healthier eating habits. She added more fruits and vegetables to her diet and found that snacking on veggies such as radishes and hummus in between meals curbed her appetite.

“I keep a big bowl of fruit in my kitchen and chopped vegetables in my refrigerator,” Valerie says. “If I get hungry, it's easy to reach for a healthy snack.”

The actress also began exercising on a regular basis, starting out slowly.

“I didn't think I could run since my knees hurt,” Valerie says. “So I began by slowly walking around the block and worked up to jogging and then running.”

She soon learned that she loved running and in 2010, four days before her 50th birthday, Valerie completed the Boston Marathon in 5 hours and 14 minutes.

Finishing the marathon was one of many milestones the actress has celebrated in recent years. Nine months after beginning the Jenny Craig program, Valerie was down to 132 pounds and stepped out in a bikini for the first time in 30 years, to appear on the cover of People magazine.

Inspired by her daughter's weight loss success, Valerie's mother Nancy also started on Jenny Craig in 2007 and lost 54 pounds on the program. Not only did mother and daughter celebrate looking and feeling better, they soon discovered another reason to celebrate. During a routine follow-up appointment with her cardiologist in 2008, Nancy, who had been experiencing shortness of breath, was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, which is an abnormal narrowing of the heart's aortic valve. Her doctor told Nancy that she needed emergency surgery for a faulty heart valve, and she came through the surgery with flying colors.

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Today, the fit and healthy actress is committed to raising awareness of how losing weight, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease–the most common type of heart disease and the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. She's just published a new cookbook, One Dish at a Time (Rodale Press), featuring family recipes made healthy.

In May of this year, Valerie helped Jenny Craig kick off a major campaign with the American Heart Association to conduct more than 350 Heart Walks across the country (see Walking for heart health on page 6).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that two-thirds of adults in the United States are classified as overweight or obese, with an expected 75 percent of the country to be overweight by 2015 if trends continue.

While Valerie and Nancy both lost a significant amount of weight, evidence from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute shows that even losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight over six months can lower your risk for heart disease. By learning portion control, adopting healthier habits and getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking each week, women can make a significant impact on their heart health.

Looking fit and fabu...
Looking fit and fabu...
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In retrospect, Nancy and Valerie both say they wish they had embraced a healthier lifestyle sooner.

“I worked at a job where I sat all day and after work I was tired so my physical activity level was limited,” Nancy says. “When I started losing weight, I was determined to find an exercise that I could enjoy and would be tolerable with my arthritis.”

Nancy discovered she enjoyed working out on a stationary bike with handles that moved back and forth to exercise her arms. She started slowly and worked up to 40 minutes a day, several days a week. Her hard work has paid off–today Nancy has her high blood pressure under control and has watched her cholesterol go from a high of over 200 to 119.

Today, as Valerie approaches her five-year weight loss anniversary, the actress remains committed to maintaining her healthy weight.

“When my husband Tom and I barbeque now, we'll have chicken breast instead of red meat,” Valerie says. “And where I used to reward myself with food, I now treat myself to a new pair of jeans or a purse.”

Both Valerie and her mom learned to make diet swaps such as substituting whole grains for refined starches; eating more fruits, vegetables and lean proteins; limiting red meat and sweets; eliminating butter and high-fat dairy foods and swapping saturated fats for heart healthy fats such as canola, olive and peanut oils. Portion control is important, too.

While Valerie admits she feels better than she ever has, she knows that maintaining her current weight involves ongoing vigilance.

“I still make mistakes from time to time where I see the scale move upward,” she says. “I just know I don't want to go down that path again, so I nip any weight gain in the bud.”

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Walking for heart health

Each year, millions of people participate in Heart Walks across the United States. Each walker is asked to raise money from friends and family, coworkers, business acquaintances, association members, etc. The money that is raised each year is used to fund the valuable research, education and advocacy efforts of the American Heart Association.

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Valerie kicked off the New York Heart Walk in New York City on May 31, 2012 on behalf of “Team Jenny.” To get involved in a Heart Walk in your area, visit You can participate as an individual or put together a team—all you have to do is start walking!

© 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.