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Stronger Than Ever: Be Your Healthiest at Any Age

Cancer at 25. A heart attack at 34. A life-changing diagnosis at 40. When health crises tested their mettle, these five women fought back. Find out why each one is at her healthiest right now and learn how to age-proof your life.
Michelle Bychowsky Michelle Bychowsky

My Healthiest Age: 39

It started as a typical day at the office in March 2008. One minute I was leading a meeting in a conference room, the next I went into sudden cardiac arrest. I was defibrillated seven times, and doctors later discovered that a valve in my heart needed repair. After two years I underwent open-heart surgery.

As a frequent gymgoer, it drove me nuts that I could do only light exercise, like walking or using the elliptical machine on the lowest setting -- especially because my husband, Paul, was training for a Tough Mudder at the time. I vowed to complete the obstacle race one day, too.

When doctors finally gave me the OK to return to my routine, I got winded simply walking up a flight of stairs. But I was determined. I started working with a personal trainer named Susan. We hit it off, and she promised to run the race with me. I set small targets -- do one real push-up, run two miles. Whenever I doubted myself, Susan reminded me that I had survived heart surgery; surely I could manage one more pull-up.

Four years after my cardiac arrest, Susan and I stood at the starting line of my first Tough Mudder. Thirteen miles of running, angled monkey bars, and icy plunges later, I was overwhelmed with exhaustion and emotion. Since then I've completed four adventure races. They make me realize how far I've come!

Listen to Your Heart: Women under 50 are twice as likely as men to die of a heart attack. "They're more likely to take a wait-and-see approach," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, the author of The Women's Healthy Heart Program. Beware of these sneaky signs: