• Cardiology Patient Stories

    Why I Walk: Alexandra Abreu-Figueroa

Alexandra Abreu Figueroa (right), pictured with her mother Lyana Figueroa-Soto, is inspired by the First Coast Heart Walk to improve her fitness and tackle a family struggle with weight.

Editor’s note: In this article, Alexandra Abreu-Figueroa, an intern in Public Affairs at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, shares her story and discusses why she participates in the First Coast Heart Walk, an annual event sponsored by Mayo Clinic.

Growing up, I was always overweight. During my teenage years, in particular, I struggled — losing and gaining weight over and over again. I tried different diets, pills and exercises while battling bullying, depression and societal standards that said I should try to fix my body.

As an adult, I made the decision to have a gastric lap band inserted to help control my weight, but it still didn’t change my mindset.

Obesity is not out of the ordinary in my family nor in my culture. Most of my family members have had challenges with obesity at one point in their lives. And, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 42.5 percent of Latinos are overweight or obese.

New guidelines were released by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Obesity Society in November 2013 advising doctors to consider obesity as a disease and urging more active treatment to help heart disease and stroke, the nation’s  No. 1 and No. 5 killers, respectively.

I know that obesity puts me at risk for other health issues. Some of my family members have had open-heart surgery due to cardiovascular disease; others battle diabetes. These types of problems are hereditary in my family and are correlated to excess weight.

Even though I may be predisposed to these ailments, I realized recently that I have the power to break the cycle with the knowledge I have gained, thanks to Mayo Clinic.

Breaking the cycle

This summer I joined Mayo Clinic as an intern in Public Affairs on the Jacksonville, Florida, campus. It has been a truly humbling experience to work at the nation’s No.1 health care provider and learn from industry professionals. More so, it’s been eye-opening to learn about all the life-altering research and treatment advances at Mayo Clinic, including improvements in heart disease and cancer.

As I’ve gone through my internship and had the opportunity to meet clinicians, I’ve come to realize there is no magic pill, no exact diet that will work for everyone when it comes to obesity and weight loss. Rather, it’s a combination of things, including choosing better foods and moving more.

"Even though I may be predisposed to these ailments, I realized recently that I have the power to break the cycle with the knowledge I have gained." – Alexandra Abreu-Figueroa 

Research from the American Heart Association shows that 30 minutes of walking can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and obesity, and improve blood pressure. Every day, as I walk around the Mayo Clinic campus, I know I am literally taking steps to improve my health, particularly my heart health.

The American Heart Association promotes its “Life Is Why” campaign to bring awareness to heart health. For me, love is why. I am making a commitment to myself to increase my overall fitness level, to be healthier, but also to be able to love myself more. Being overweight had caused me to have a lower self-esteem and sense of worth. But, now, I am proud and confident in my ability to change my lifestyle.

Intern with a cause

With my own health in mind, I volunteered to lead a team as a part of the Heart Association's First Coast Heart Walk, which will be held on Saturday, Sept. 17. Mayo Clinic once again is the primary sponsor of the annual 5K event. The goal is to have 100 teams and raise $100,000 to support education and research for heart health and stroke.

Although I’ve not walked a three-mile stretch at one time before, I believe I can do it. I know that, by participating, I will be moving toward achieving my goals — changing my view of myself and improving my overall health.



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