“An investment in WCH is an investment in my own health, and the health of women everywhere.”
Meet Louise: How BETTER Women is Helping Women Feel Better
Louise knew her health could be better. She didn’t feel like she was at her ideal weight, was having trouble with her knees and her cholesterol levels were higher than her family physician, Dr. Ruth Heisey, would have liked them to be.
During an appointment in late 2019, Dr. Heisey asked Louise if she would be interested in participating in a new program that had recently been launched to help women just like her improve their health and reduce their risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Louise immediately agreed. “My weight had been the same for a while and my arthritis was acting up, and the program seemed like the nudge I might need to make some changes,” says Louise.
The program, called BETTER Women, launched in the fall of 2019 with the support of a major grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada. A partnership initiative between Women’s College Hospital and the Canadian Cancer Society, it’s designed to help women avoid developing chronic health issues by establishing specific and actionable diet, exercise and lifestyle goals based on their unique needs and health profiles by connecting them with a peer health coach who will help them to achieve their goals.
“We know that diet, exercise and lifestyle habits are crucial predictors of whether an individual will develop one or more chronic diseases over their lifetime,” says Dr. Heisey. “But for many people, maintaining those habits can be very difficult without the right level of support. BETTER Women provides that support so that women can get on track and stay on track for a healthier future.”
At Louise’s first BETTER Women appointment, her prevention practitioner, Julie, reviewed a questionnaire that Louise had filled out and walked her through her family history. Julie prepared a chart showing Louise her risk factors for various chronic diseases and the two spoke about Louise’s diet, exercise and lifestyle habits. Together, they established a set of three initial goals based on Louise’s full health profile and specific needs.
“My first three goals were to walk two times a day for 20 minutes each, pay attention while I’m eating to see if I’m still hungry at the midpoint and be aware of the temptation to eat even when I’m not hungry,” says Louise. “I didn’t want to overwhelm myself to start, and these seemed like goals I could stick to.”
As the program is currently expanding to include volunteer peer health coaches recruited and trained by the Canadian Cancer Society, Louise will soon have the option to work with someone who has achieved similar goals, in addition to connecting with Julie. She says that having a more formalized, consistent support system has both helped her stick to her goals and change course when she’s not quite keeping up in the way she’d like, “The accountability I feel to Julie is a really important element in the effectiveness of this program,” she says. “Julie is encouraging and will help me adjust my goals if I’m not meeting them. And, her perspective has really helped to keep me motivated.”
Louise is already seeing results. Her weight is down, her arthritis is no longer bothering her and she’s no longer feeling tempted by her greatest weakness: sweets. “I’ve been able to maintain consistency, which is huge for me,” she says.
The BETTER Women program is initially being rolled out in Toronto, Barrie and Peel Region to assess its effectiveness on a broad range of women from different socioeconomic and geographic areas.
Louise’s participation in BETTER Women has also underscored the value of her commitment to supporting the hospital. “It’s so important to have and support a hospital focused on women’s health,” she says. “Women have unique health needs and challenges and the staff and researchers at WCH are devoting their time and energy to finding ways to meet those unique needs. An investment in WCH is an investment in my own health, and the health of women everywhere. Giving back is my way of saying ‘thank you.’”
To learn more about the BETTER Women program, click here.