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I was 18 when my doctor warned me I was at risk for early onset hypertension. Barely an adult, I weighed 235 pounds and had 44% body fat. With a diet high in saturated fats and sugar coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, I was slowly damaging my joints and causing potentially permanent damage to my heart. I walked out of my doctor's office frightened, but determined that I was not going to let myself suffer from a preventable disease. I know now that his early intervention was critical. I vowed then and there to set out on a journey to live a healthier life.

The next steps in my journey were not easy and I fumbled a lot. A LOT. Needless to say, I did not know the first thing about eating right or exercise, but I decided that I could either accept the ailments that came with my current lifestyle or do something about them. Gradually, I started to make "better" food choices, read labels and become more educated about what I was putting in my body. Then, very apprehensively, I started to add more physical activity in my daily life.

I hope my story will help others realize how every journey to health starts with a small step and how the healthcare system can be a key partner in the path to a healthier life.

In commemoration of National Women's Health Week, MomsRising is encouraging our members to focus on taking small steps to improve their health and to reach out to their friends and communities to join them.

One of the things I remember about my journey is that I did not do it alone. Right by my side, every step of the way, was my amazing mother. She replaced the sweets in our house with fruit, the processed cooking oils with olive oil and found alternative recipes for our family's favorite foods. Even before I could jog or run, she walked with me around our neighborhood and encouraged me to go to the gym instead of watching TV. Most importantly, she never let me give up on my goals. I know today that I could not have done it without my mom.

One more important thing my mother provided, was coverage on her health care plan. My doctors and my nutritionist were a key support system. Once I made my decision to lose weight, we continued to monitor my health and the effects that my new regime had on my body. At each visit, we discussed the progress with my weight and the improvement of my blood pressure. Most importantly, we paid close attention that I was losing the weight the "healthy way" and taking steps to keep the weight off.

That's why I'm excited that the Affordable Care Act is making it easier for doctors and their patients to take action to prevent health problems before they start. For many women, preventive services like mammograms, Pap smears, birth control and yearly well-woman visits are now available without cost sharing.

Moreover, starting next year, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to refuse women coverage just because we are battling breast cancer or have another pre-existing condition -- and they won't be allowed to charge us more just because we are women.

And if you're one of the millions of women who are uninsured or who buy insurance on their own, on October 1, 2013, you will be able to visit a new Health Insurance Marketplace where you can compare and choose from a range of plans to find one that best fits your needs and budget. All of these plans must cover a package of essential health benefits, including maternity and newborn care.

To get more information about the Marketplace and to sign up for email and text updates to get ready for October, visit HealthCare.gov and check out this video message from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Being healthy starts with each of us taking control.

My journey to a "healthier me" has been a constant one. Even today, I schedule regular workouts, track my daily water intake and schedule regular check-ins with my doctor. Eventually my journey led me to lose one-hundred pounds. In 2007, I ran my first 10-mile race and I plan to run my first half marathon in January 2014. In 2008, eight years after beginning my journey, I became a personal trainer and fitness consultant to help other women like me actualize their fitness goals.

This week, millions of women from around the country are going to be taking their first steps, continuing their journeys and celebrating healthier more active lives. How will you make the most of National Women's Health Week?

Join me and the rest of the MomsRising team in celebrating National Women's Health Week and playing Healthy Moms BINGO! The MomsRising BINGO card lists 25 simple, healthy activities that are small, important steps we can all take to improve our health and start more healthy habits!

Originally Posted on The Huffington Post (5.17.13)


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