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Heather Barden

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October 2023 Wellness University Success Story

Heather Barden, Nurse Professional Development Specialist, started working at the South Sacramento Medical Center a year and a half ago and was pleasantly surprised by her new workplace culture. “Although it is much bigger than my previous health care organization I worked for, it feels like I am working in a small hospital because everyone knows each other,” she said.

She was also surprised by the variety of wellness offerings available to physicians and employees, and quickly started enjoying them. “Wellness University has so many resources to support one’s health, like the walking paths, Walktober, and the Best Me Pathways.”

And the timing couldn’t have been better: Heather had been wanting to work on improving her physical and emotional health for a while.  And like many other health care professionals, she had been feeling burned out for years, and was in search of a way to get healthier and happier.

She expected that working toward earning her advance degrees in her field would help to improve her emotional well-being, but with all the studying, working full-time, and taking care of her family and farm, she wasn’t able to truly focus on her nutrition and physical activity. “I gained back a lot of the weight I lost back in 2017, and despite accomplishing my academic and professional goals, I still wasn’t happy,” she said.

Coming to Kaiser Permanente and seeing all the wellness programs available encouraged her to make her health a priority. She started by adopting a whole, real-food Paleo type nutrition program, focusing on lean protein, lots of vegetables, and eliminating ultra-processed foods. Using the free MyFitnessPal app, she monitors her daily food intake and uses the graphs to track her progress. When shopping at the grocery store, she shops the perimeter of the store, where all of the unprocessed, whole foods she eats are located.

She also started exercising regularly again, mostly walking at first, then increasing to running and going to the gym. Since she lives over an hour away from work, she decided to invest in a treadmill that she uses regularly at home. That gave her more time to do the things she wanted to do, like being with her family and taking care of the farm. She also enlists the help of her sister and children to keep her accountable. “I have an exercise schedule that I monitor and on certain days a family member will help me stay on track,” she said.

She also experiences this encouragement at work, where her director and colleagues support her and her wellness goals. When possible, they go on walks together and, for the third year in a row, they registered and formed a department team for goKP Walktober, a national team-building, physical activity virtual challenge that runs through the end of October. She recently completed her first half marathon with some of her colleague, and two of them are joining her at the Disney Half Marathon in January.

Whenever she hits a plateau, she looks at what she can do differently in her exercise routine, and often changes it up by incorporating weights like dead lifts and kettlebell exercises. Since removing sugar and ultra-processed foods out of her nutrition and doing regular exercise, Heather says she has more energy, feels more confident, has lost over 50 pounds, and seen her skin health improve.

Setting up a network of family and friends, along with having encouraging home and work environments, has kept her motivated to stay active, eat well, and remain accountable to her goal of improving her overall well-being. Not only is she healthier, she’s happier. Her motivation now is to “spend the second half of my adult life being healthier than I was before.”

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