Stress and dangerously high blood pressure had Bernadette Henry spiraling downward — until she found the nostalgic exercise that put her on a path toward health and happiness.
Movement as medicine.
Bernadette stumbled through her front door a little after 8 am, struggling to keep her eyes open and wishing she could crawl into bed. She’d just finished a fourth consecutive night shift at her second job and had less than an hour to make sure her kids were ready for school before she left for her full-time job. “The constant grind was extremely stressful, and my health was suffering as a result,” shares Bernadette. “It got to the point where I knew I needed to prioritize myself, or things were going to come to a head.
Exhausted and stressed.
“My crazy schedule began when I picked up a second job in November of 2017 — I was working seven days a week. At the end of the day on Friday, instead of looking forward to a relaxing weekend with my family, I would take care of my three children, do all the chores around the house, then try to lie down and rest for two hours before getting up and going to my second job at midnight.
“I was trying to support my family financially and be a good mom to my three children, two of whom have special needs. But having two jobs was incredibly stressful, and I started suffering terrible headaches as a result.
“At my second job, I spent too much time eating — even though I wasn’t hungry — because it helped me stay awake. As a result, my weight began to climb, reaching 250 pounds. I wasn’t able to eat right, I wasn’t able to sleep right and I was so drained that I didn’t have the energy to take care of myself. Everything was thrown out of whack.
“A few months after taking the second job, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup, but what I discovered was far from routine: I knew my weight was an issue, but I was surprised when the doctor told me that my blood pressure was dangerously high at 166/108. He immediately put me on blood-pressure medication and recommended that I try to lose weight, lower my salt intake and dial down my stress levels.
“Getting back to a normal sleep pattern definitely helped lower my stress levels, and I thought that would be enough to get my blood pressure back to normal. But when I returned to the doctor in January 2020, I was disheartened to learn that my blood pressure remained high and the doctor wanted to give me three more blood pressure medications. I begged him to give me a chance to make a change on my own instead, and he agreed.
Healthy — at last!
“I had exercised on and off throughout my adult life, but not much in the past few years — I could never find the time. When I was younger, I enjoyed going to the gym and thought that was the only way to exercise; working out at home wasn’t something that seemed effective. But at this point in my life, I knew I needed something that I could do at home in a short amount of time, and that’s when it hit me: The answer was a jump rope.
“Jumping rope had always been part of my workout routine when I was younger, but now I decided to make it the focus. I made a commitment to do 10 sets of 100 jumps in my backyard at least three days a week. From previous experience, I knew this routine would take around 10 minutes. It was tough to fit it into my schedule and the workout wasn’t easy at first, but once I turned music on and started jumping, I felt like I was on vacation. I could forget about life, stress and all my to-do’s.
“I use a half-pound weighted rope, which makes the jumping feel easier because the rope maintains its momentum, plus I’m getting added toning in my shoulders, triceps, biceps, and wrists. Within four weeks, I began to feel stronger and my stamina improved. Most days, after my 10 sets of 100 jumps, I like to do some freestyle jumping too, and I take videos and share them on Instagram (@makeitfunnyc). As I got healthier, I also started mixing in body-weight exercises like squats, push-ups and planks from time to time.
“In the past year, I’ve lost 30 pounds, my headaches have vanished, and my blood pressure dropped 20 points — enough that my doctor eliminated some of my blood-pressure meds. Jumping rope is a phenomenal wholebody workout. I don’t have any other words to describe it — it just makes me so happy!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.