The Mechanicsville mother of four volunteers as a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, which sponsors the national call to exercise on April 6.
Douglas says a few years ago, her fourth pregnancy strained her heart so much it turned a congenital weakness into congestive heart failure. She, at age 32, was looking death in the face until she decided to get up and walk away.
“Basically, my heart was functioning at 15 percent,” says Douglas. “So yes, I would definitely say that walking and then, eventually easing into running definitely saved my life. Definitely.”
Last year, Douglas finished her first marathon.
Vince Sheehy, president of Sheehy Auto Stores, says for the second year, their dealerships will compete to see which one can rack up the most steps. And there’s a serious side, as heart disease has touched his family and many of his employees.
He says a healthy workforce is good for the bottom line, and a little competition can make exercise enjoyable.
For instance, Sheehy says they started giving out Fitbit activity trackers as employee prizes.
“That’s taken on a life of it’s own,” he says. “And now, they’re in competition with each other. Everybody’s having a lot of fun with it and getting healthier at the same time.”
Heart disease is the top killer in the U.S. and stroke is the leading cause of preventable disability.
But according to the Heart Association, one hour of regular exercise can add about two hours to life expectancy, even for people who start in middle age.
Elisa Douglas says beginning an exercise program is often easier than people think.
“Start small,” she says. “It doesn’t take a lot – a walk every day, or every other day, or even parking further in the parking lot. Or taking the steps versus the elevator.”
You can find National Walking Day events or sign up to contribute toward a national exercise goal at Heart.org/NationalWalkingDay.