Cindy Parsons isn’t a supermodel, but she looked the part as she strutted her stuff down the catwalk of The Heart Truth® Red Dress Fashion Show, flaunting the event’s signature fire engine red dress. Held in New York City on February 6th, the annual fashion show raises awareness and funds for heart health and heart disease—something that hits very close to home for Cindy, who lost both her mother and mother-in-law to heart disease in 2010.
“It was an incredibly moving experience,” Cindy says. “Going down the runway, I felt like my mom was right there walking with me. I felt like I was walking for her, and for all the women in this country who don’t know about heart health.”
Cindy, who was selected to participate in the fashion show as a heart health advocate, was the first non-celebrity to be featured in the event’s history. In spite of pre-show jitters, the 55-year-old from Brooklyn, Connecticut held her own alongside the likes of Jillian Michaels, Savannah Guthrie, Kelly Osbourne and Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglass.
“It was very nerve-wracking, for sure,” Cindy admits. “But I felt so proud to be out there, representing all the women whose lives have been touched by heart disease.”
Not only was she walking to promote heart disease awareness, Cindy was also walking to celebrate her triumph in achieving a heart-healthy lifestyle. One year ago, the slim, model-esque woman walking down the runway was an entirely different person, inside and out. Sedentary and overweight, she seemed destined to fall into the trap of heart disease, a disease that runs in Cindy’s family.
“My mother died of a heart attack two years ago,” Cindy says. “I knew that I had a family history of heart disease and that I needed to start eating better and moving more, but the motivation just wasn’t there.”
When she heard that the Brooklyn health department was looking for 50 women in the northeastern Connecticut area to participate in the Follow the Fifty: Models of Heart Health campaign, a program funded through The Heart Truth® Community Action Program, Cindy’s interest was immediately piqued. Knowing that her personal risk factors for heart disease were high—and hoping to do something in her mother’s honor—Cindy signed up for the program in February 2012 and took the Follow the Fifty pledge, vowing to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Cindy recruited her daughter, Stacy, 37, to join her on her quest toward better heart health. Together, the mother-and-daughter duo encouraged one another to stay on track and avoid diet pitfalls. “It was incredible having Stacy go through this journey with me,” Cindy says. “We were a team, always pulling for each other. We stayed together the whole way.”
In a nine-month period, Cindy radically transformed her body—and her heart—for the better. She lost 77 pounds, lowered her body mass index by 11 points, and decreased her blood pressure from 128/82 to 110/72. Cindy’s prescription for weight loss success was simple yet effective: plenty of exercise, lots of fruit and vegetables and very few carbohydrates.
“I focused on moving more and watching everything that went into my mouth,” Cindy says. “As the pounds started coming off, it gave me even more motivation to keep going. And my pledge was always at the back of my mind.”
Cindy’s total-body transformation has been an incredible journey, and walking the runway at The Heart Truth® fashion show gave Cindy a chance to share her inspiring story with thousands of viewers. Cindy hopes to empower other women to triumph over heart disease and its risk factors.
According to Cindy, it is important for all women—regardless of weight or fitness level—to understand their heart disease risk. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, accounting for nearly 1 in 4 female deaths. That is a frightening statistic, but what’s even more frightening is that many women aren’t aware of their personal heart disease risk.
“Most people don’t realize that heart disease is the #1 killer for women,” Cindy says. “It’s important to get the word out there about heart disease, because it’s preventable.”
“Talk to your doctor,” she adds. “Always know your numbers: your blood pressure, your cholesterol, etc. Even an outwardly fit woman can be living with high blood pressure and not know it.”
Above all, it is crucial for women to be their own advocate and take control of their heart health. Says Cindy: “You have to start making choices for yourself. As women, we are always taking of everybody else. But we have to start taking care of ourselves first so that we are able to take care of everybody else for years to come.”
And Cindy doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon: “I feel like a new person,” Cindy says. “I’m 55, but I feel as great as I did in my 20s and 30s. I feel like I can go out there and do everything I want to do. I want to keep working hard so that I can hold on to this incredible feeling.”