Woman Alive strengthens health and heart

By Tanya Castle

A women’s program at Centretown’s Jack Purcell Community Centre is taking on the leading cause of death for Canadian women: heart diseases.

The Woman Alive program offers low-income women an opportunity to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death for men and women in Canada.

“Women who have a low income face barriers. They’re isolated but the program offers them a chance to increase the health of their heart and their mind,” says Ottawa public health nurse Nathalie McKenna.

Low-income women are particularly at risk. This group tends to engage in unhealthy heart behaviour such as less exercise, more smoking and more weight gain, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

More than 37 per cent of all deaths of Canadian women are cardiovascular related, compared to 36 per cent for men, according to 1999 data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Developed in 1997 in Kanata by a public health nurse, Woman Alive has since expanded to Centretown’s Jack Purcell Community Centre.

The program provides a combination of exercise, heart-health education and social interaction for low-income women of all ages and ethnicities.

For some women, the program is much more.

“It offers women a place to build self-esteem, confidence and helps them reach for more and challenge themselves and their family,” says long-time participant Rose Parsoo.

Parsoo was one of the first to enrol in the program. She says it has helped her overcome the chronic pain she suffered after being hit by a car while riding her bike.

“The program gives me strength and makes me feel like I am doing something right,” says Parsoo.

Kathy Watcham is the co-ordinator for Woman Alive at Jack Purcell and has seen membership increase since it started two years ago.

She says the increase is partly due to participants like Parsoo who recruit other women.

Watcham tries to accept as many women as possible to the program but it is not always easy because of the high demand.

“For women living in isolation it is a big step coming to the Centre so we always make sure we can accommodate as many people as possible because we don’t want to turn anyone away,” she says.

Woman Alive asks for one dollar per class, a fraction of the cost of private gyms. Women can choose from aquafitness, yoga and weight-training. The program also provides transportation, childcare and sports gear for the participants.

“A woman once came in with flip flops on and through donated goods I was able to give her running shoes to exercise in,” says Watcham.

Financially, the women say the program can’t be beat.

“The program provides things you might otherwise not be able to afford,” says participant Lisa Misir.

Classes run Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings but participants can use the facilities more often if they choose.

For more information, call the Jack Purcell Community Centre at 613-564-1050.