It’s been said that life begins at 40, but for this Brooklyn mom it’s more accurate to say that life truly began at 50. That’s because to celebrate her 50th birthday in 2012, Kathy Ioannou from Dyker Heights decided to run the New York City Marathon. The punchline: she wasn’t a runner.
Ioannou, a mother of three, was determined to celebrate that special milestone birthday in a way that embodied her renewed health and passion for living an active lifestyle. Five years later, in April 2019, after completing the London Marathon, she became one of the elite group of runners who has completed the six World Major Marathons: NYC, Chicago, Boston, Berlin, Tokyo and London.
Like every journey of a thousand miles, Ioannou’s journey started with one step: she quit smoking.
“In 2007, I quit smoking after an 18-year nicotine addiction,” she says. “I started eating healthy and became physically active by joining a gym. Those decisions might have saved my life.”
Looking back, Ioannou admits that her family history and unhealthy habits increased her risk for heart disease and stroke but through running and better nutrition, she began seeing her blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers improve. According to the American Heart Association, these are key indicators of ideal cardiovascular health.
“I truly wanted to regain my health for my children and to be around for them for as long as I can,” Ioannou said. “I encountered obstacles that could have kept me down but just like the little engine that could, I believed in myself, stuck to my training plan and my goals and kept my commitment to myself.”
Thanks to Ioannou’s example, her family has adopted much healthier habits as well.
“I have gotten my family involved in yoga and have tried to help them with smoking cessation techniques,” she said. “My family has also adopted much healthier cooking methods and we have incorporated a lot more vegetables, fruits and foods high in antioxidants and healthy nutrients.”
Earlier this year, Ioannou was recognized by the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement for her commitment to improving her health and inspiring the people in her life, receiving the New York Lifestyle Change Award.
“I want to encourage other women and my community in Brooklyn to take control of their health,” she says. “When I first started running in 2014, I couldn’t imagine ever running more than a 5K. I now have more energy than many of the 30-year-olds I run with and I can keep up with all age groups at the gym. I feel strong on the inside.”
Ioannou says her life is happier, more satisfying and she is no longer a hostage to nicotine or a sedentary lifestyle.
“If I could share one message, it would be this: it’s never too late to make a lifestyle change.”
When Ioannou is not running marathons around the world, she stays active by walking and hiking with her daughter and sons. She is committed to celebrating life the way it should be – with all of her heart.
“If we all work together to help each other live healthier lives, imagine what a difference we can make in the fight against heart disease,” Ioannou says.
Kathy Ioannou is now a volunteer with the American Heart Association. She encourages communities to get active and get healthy. You can start your journey to improved health by joining the Brooklyn Heart Walk on Sunday, Sept. 15 in Coney Island. For more information visit www.brooklynheartwalk.org