Roland Gutwein 10:47 a.m. | 12/13/10

Howdy! And sorry for the lack of posts during the holidays. I was off having a lot of fun with friends (don’t get to see much of the family until the end of the year). Now I’m back to work and I’ll try to get back up to speed. Let’s start with a couple updates:

First of all, my diet, despite my best intentions, did NOT survive the holiday season intact. Though I managed to drop a couple pounds prior to Thanksgiving, the meal itself (and subsequent desserts and leftovers…and leftover desserts) ensured that I went right back up (and a little over) where I was when I began the holidays. Sigh. Well, it isn’t a complete defeat, just a setback. Two steps forward, one step back.

Second, I finally got my blood work done for my physical. I’m not ashamed to say that giving blood makes me squeamish. This is very odd, as I have a high threshold of squeamishness otherwise. I don’t know why it is so, but it is. Thus, I was greatly relieved that having the blood drawn wasn’t nearly as big an ‘event’ as I had built it up to be in my mind. The tech said it was okay if I just turned my head and didn’t watch. A little while later it was all over. I DID get a little lightheaded when I tried to stand up, but the techs were very reassuring and made me comfortable until I recovered. I’m a little embarrassed but not enough to keep from blogging it!

So that’s what I’ve been up to recently. Now on to the main event:

Though it has taken me a while (mostly due to my own procrastination and baseless anxieties), I’ve finally had my complete physical. And I’ve assembled the information I needed to do a full and proper heart assessment test on the American Heart Association website: http://mylifecheck.heart.org/. In an earlier post I had done a ‘fly-by’ of this test with what information I knew at the time. Now fully armed, I took the assessment again. Here’s what I found out, step by step:

Smoking Status: Excellent! Never smoked. Never going to.

Healthy Weight: Warning! I am still in the danger zone. As my doctor amusingly put it, I am “too short for my weight.” Since I can’t grow another foot taller, he gave me some great diet and exercise tips. The assessment itself gave me even more tips. Even though I am heading into the thick of holiday season (aka “Destroyer of Diets!”), I feel confident that I can get through it intact and move on to some really significant weight loss. I am even more confident because I will be staying with my oldest sister during the holidays. She and her family are AWESOME at cooking healthy foods.

Physical Activity: Excellent! I am doing well here. Just need to keep walking (at the minimum) and work back up to running long distances.

Healthy Diet: Needs Improvement! I’m on the edge but helped by the fact that I’ve phased out a lot of calories from sugar-laden drinks and other sweets. I’m still not hitting where I need to be with fruits, fish and especially veggies. This one is particularly difficult for me mainly because I am just not in the habit of picking up these foods. Fortunately for me, new habits can be made.

Blood Pressure: Excellent! I’m good here.

Blood Cholesterol: Needs Improvement! I’m on the edge here too, which surprises me. I had expected my bad cholesterol to be much worse. My doctor was again very reassuring. Part of fixing this is improving my diet and lowering my weight. Since I AM just on the edge of this one, I’m kind of psyched up to get this under control. I have a follow-up in three months and it would feel great to be in the healthy zone by then.

Blood Sugar: Excellent! This was a surprise for me––and a relief. Since my family has a history of diabetes, I have always been concerned. However, in cutting out sugary soft drinks and not allowing myself sugary sweets at home, I think I am in a good place now. My routine diet doesn’t include the kind of things that are likely to cause problems here. My weight could become an issue––but only if I allow it to be.

Overall Heart Score: 8.5 out of 10. That’s a B+! But…I’ve always been an A student, so that inspires me to bump up that score. It is especially encouraging when I see how close I am in just a couple different areas. And yes, I’m aware that a number is rather abstract––and that I have to back that number up with continued action. But it’s still ‘fun’ (from a mental perspective) to know where you stand and how you can improve.

So there you have it. After much ado, My Life Check! Looking back on it all, I realize my anxiety about my physical and what it could reveal was silly. Yes, there are problems, but they aren’t that bad—and they’re within my power to fix. So here I am, a few months later, glad that I DO know.




Roland Gutwein 4:12 p.m. | 11/30/10

The Physical

On Nov. 18 I finally went in for my physical — the first complete one I’ve had since high-school sports. And you know, for as much as I had built this into being a “big deal” — something unpleasant and even a little scary — it wasn’t anything of the sort. Oh, there was the usual waiting around beforehand, but once things got going, it all went pretty fast and “painlessly.” And what’s more, the doctor actually had some good news for me.

I was told my blood pressure was well within the healthy range. And thank goodness for that, especially with all the stress at work and the upcoming holidays (not to mention the initial anxiety of being in the doctor’s office itself). Likewise, my EKG showed no reasons for concern. Since I’d never had an EKG before, I’d been QUITE concerned. I mean, who knows what they could find, right? Apparently … nothing bad. And that’s a relief.

When we got to the subject of weight, the doctor was quite pleased I was on the down-slope since my last visit earlier in the year. That was probably one of the best feelings I got out of the visit. The doc was very encouraging and asked how much exercise I was getting and what type. He encouraged me to set more short-term goals rather than focusing on what I wanted my “final” weight to be. “One step at a time,” he assured me.

Beyond checking on my circulatory issues, there were the other standard tests. I’m proud to say I survived – and even passed. No hernias. No tumors. Heck, I didn’t even have any complaints about my knees (which have, in the past, been a bit of an issue, especially when I exercise).

The biggest letdown was that they don’t do blood work at my doctor’s office. Rather, they send patients to a lab. Thus, before my follow-up on Dec. 2, I must set up an appointment to get THAT done. I am not looking forward to the blood work as I have an irrational squeamishness when it comes to drawing blood. The sight of blood doesn’t faze me, but for some reason, needles and drawing blood does. Whuf. Well, I’m just going to have to steel myself against it and get it done. Then, I will have all the information I need to get a full appraisal of where I am heart-health wise. I’m very curious to see my cholesterol and blood sugar status — especially the latter, since my family has a history of diabetes. I will post the results here as soon as I have them.

As far as my next short-term weight-loss goal goes … well, I started out strong but had a rough weekend. See, I paid a visit to a buffet restaurant with some friends. After indulging in a (relatively) healthy grilled chicken salad, I moved on to a second course that included a slice of pizza, a beef taco and some broccoli. My choices were a little odd, but come on … it was a buffet! It looked good to me! In any case, I’m going to try to finish strong and avoid backsliding any further. I’ve still got a few days to turn things around.

I’d better wrap things up for now; I’ve got lots to take care of at work and at home. Before I go, though, I again want to encourage people not to just “hope for the best” when it comes to their health. Getting a physical isn’t nearly the chore I thought it would be. In fact, it went quite smoothly. And even if the blood work comes back with problems, my doctor assures me there are ways to address them. “Not knowing” isn’t an option for me anymore. It feels good to know where I stand — and empowering to know I have a say in where I go from there.




Roland Gutwein 1:44 p.m. | 11/15/10

SUCCESS!

Though progress the first week was slow, my smaller meal portions and steady exercise finally kicked in. I lost just more than 5 pounds in two weeks. In my positive self-talk I even congratulated myself on getting through Halloween without overdosing on candy! I’m a kid at heart, so that was an especially big hurdle for me. I mean … Halloween is all about candy, right?

Examining how I feel now, I can really see the value of setting SHORT-term as well as long-term goals. It’s fine to say that you want to get down to a certain weight “eventually,” but having a deadline (or series of deadlines) is a much better way to stay motivated. I distinctly recall stopping myself from snacking several times during the last week by saying to myself – out loud even – “Come on … you’re getting close. So close! Don’t spoil it now!” Likewise, I found myself more motivated to get out and exercise: “Only a week left, you have to really kick it in now!”

I would also like to say that for once, upon reaching my goal, I didn’t “reward” myself with food. Oh, I may go out for a bit of Mexican food this weekend (mmmm, refritos!), but at the moment I feel pretty fine eating smaller portions. And going forward, another very important thing is follow-through. I reached one goal, but I can’t celebrate in a manner that’s going to spoil everything I just accomplished. Nope. In fact, I’m setting another goal: Another two weeks. Another 5 pounds. As long as I’m in the “zone,” feeling particularly psyched up like now, I’m going to keep going.

It would be nice to get a little bit of a weight-management head start on the holidays, because for me and a lot of people that is the worst time for maintaining a diet. It would be GREAT to go into the holidays 5 or even 10 pounds down from where I am now. In fact, it might just be enough of a psychological boost to throw me out of my usual “holiday time = comfort food” mindset. The really good news in THAT regard is I’m going to be spending the holidays at my sister’s house. She and her family are probably the healthiest-eating bunch I know: Lots of fruits, veggies, fish and lean meats, and in moderate portions. Just the ticket.

But for now I’m going to keep it simple. I reached one goal. On to the next. And all of this with a busy-busy work schedule. Yeah. For this moment, at least, I’m going to enjoy my success.

P.S. And for those keeping score, my scheduled physical is Nov. 18. Once THAT is done, I will be able to take the full-blown heart assessment test! Looking forward to seeing where I stand (even if I’m not looking forward to the blood work at the doctor’s office).




Roland Gutwein 4:55 p.m. | 11/8/10

SOUNDTRACK

In my readings the other week on the AHA website, I came upon some interesting tactics to use while pursuing a weight-loss goal. One that really stuck with me said a person should be mindful of their self-talk. They shouldn’t speak negatively to themselves or put themselves down. Positive reinforcement — even if it is from yourself — is an effective way of keeping your spirits up and yourself focused on your goal.

But I covered that last week, so where am I going with this … well, I’ll tell you:

Music!

Everyone loves music. We don’t all like the same things, but no matter who we are, there is some style that appeals to us — that moves us. When I exercise, it is almost always done to music. So while I was walking, and listening, and thinking about the whole talking to yourself thing, I realized that, in a way, music is very similar. Yes, it’s someone else’s voice, but you’re the one who chooses what voice, and what that voice is saying to you.

I have my collection of music divided up into several different moods. There are songs I like to play when I’m feeling mellow; songs I like when I’m feeling energetic; songs I like when I’m feeling blue. I’m sure I’m not alone on this. That got me thinking even more about those songs and how they reinforce whatever feelings you’re having at the moment. A happy song played when you’re happy makes you even more happy. Likewise, a sad song can enhance your blues. Following this logic (and from my personal experience), songs can change your mood. Oh sure, if you’re sad, you probably don’t want to listen to a happy, shiny, energetic song. But a song that’s mellow instead of blue may help you turn around the way you feel.

All of this thinking got me to pay attention to the moods that different songs evoke in me — especially while I’m exercising. Unsurprisingly it was the really positive songs that had the biggest impact on me. A couple of songs about changing your mind and changing your life are particularly inspirational to me. And amusingly, I have a few songs in which the background singers interject a “Come on!” or “Yeah!” that seems directed entirely at me. It is almost as if the singers are urging me to keep going. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but for whatever reason — it works!

I’m a firm believer in “whatever works for you.” Music really works for me in that positive self-talk kind of way — so much that I have altered my usual playlists to include more personally inspirational songs. It isn’t always just about a good backbeat or rhythm to move to — sometimes it’s about the message of the song as well. So find a soundtrack that keeps you moving. And remember, when you do something good — give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.

P.S. I am at the midway point of my two-weeks-to-lose-5-pounds diet. I am still inspired and feel I am doing well, but I haven’t moved the needle much on my scale. I still have a week to go and a positive attitude. Let’s see where that will take me …




Roland Gutwein 3:13 p.m. | 11/1/10

Inspiration and Rededication

As you can tell from last week’s post, I make the occasional stumble. And with that comes a sudden lack of motivation. For me, it’s like I mess up, then brood about it for a while – which results in me sliding even further away from my goals.

Emotion and food have always been closely tied with me – with food being a comfort to help me through times when I’m feeling down. This is a very bad cycle to fall into, especially when you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthier. Feel bad. Eat too much/unhealthy food. Feel bad about eating. Eat more food. Repeat.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, exercise and diet are a lot easier when you have a feeling of being part of a team. But ultimately, you can fall down in those quiet moments when it’s just you. Do you tell yourself to get up off that couch? Or do you procrastinate and let it slide for “just one more night”? Do you say no to that snack you crave just before bedtime? It is a mental challenge – and like most other things in life, it is something you are never finished dealing with. It is a constant struggle against unhealthy urges.

Wow. That sounds kind of depressing. But it really isn’t all that bleak. We face challenges in life all the time. Things pop up at work that you have to deal with. Relationships require effort to maintain. Yards need to be tended to. Your weight and health are no different. The real challenge is finding ways to keep yourself motivated.

Information’s a big help for me. I am constantly amazed at how much the Internet has changed my life. I have always been a voracious reader. We had a set of encyclopedias at home and I used them a lot to try to answer questions I had about things I saw in life or on TV. But even encyclopedias are limited. And then came the Internet. And wow, there is so much information out there! Yes, of course you have to be skeptical when it comes to sources of information. But even filtering out the untrustworthy stuff leaves you with access to hundreds of reliable sources of information. And sometimes not just information – but inspiration.

Such is the case with the American Heart Association. I find myself returning to the site often, digging into information that I hadn’t before. And so far, I haven’t hit bottom! Of particular help to me this time around was a section about no fad diets. I found a collection of tips to help people begin or get through rough spots – like the one I’m currently in.

Of particular interest to me was a section titled: Think Smart: Find a New Start. That seemed to apply directly to what I was feeling. And here are some of the suggestions:

“Close your eyes and picture how you want to look when you’ve reached your target weight. When you hit a hurdle, focus on this image and the feelings it evokes.”

I often think back to those days where I was in much better shape than I am now. That is what I want to return to. It DOES make me feel good to remember. And I can imagine how I will feel when I do reach that goal.

“Be aware of your self-talk and listen critically to what you are saying. Rephrase negative self-talk with a positive message.”

I never really thought about this in depth. But I talk to myself ALL the time. And after reading this, I began to listen to what I was saying. Not all of it was very nice. At the surface, it just sounds silly – putting yourself down in your own talk. But really, it does impact me. I just hadn’t noticed it before. By saying mean things to myself, it seems to make me even less willing to do those things I really need to do.

“Set reasonable, realistic and measurable short- and long-term weight-loss goals.”
“Write your goals in a weight-loss diary to make them real.”

This is another area where I am falling short. I have a long-term goal and in the early days of my healthier eating and exercising, I dropped weight fast. But that has tapered off and I realize that I can’t just rely on doing what I am doing. I have to change things up. And more importantly, I need to stop slacking off.

Therefore, starting this weekend, I am tightening my food intake more than before. No, I’m not going to starve myself. I am going to shave off portions of food and rededicate myself to moderation. In fact, for a while, I am going to just give up sweets or other comfort foods. As happy as I am with eating what I want (in moderation) – I realize now that I have reached a plateau. I am maintaining my weight, but I am not losing. Since I have not reached my target weight, that means something has to change.

So here we are. In writing, I am now stating that I want to lose five pounds over the next two weeks. I do believe that is reasonable considering my current weight. I don’t know if this qualifies as a weight loss diary, but it’s close enough for now. Wish me luck!

I am starting to ramble, so I’m going to end it here. If you need inspiration and information on how to change things up in your own quest to get healthy, don’t forget how much information is already out there. Find those things that work for you – and maybe you’ll realize some things you hadn’t before. And whatever you do, don’t let setbacks or disappointment in yourself derail you. Get inspired.




Roland Gutwein 4:32 p.m. | 10/25/10

Breaking Even...?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

OK, so maybe that's over dramatizing my situation, but it does apply...sort of.

This weekend, my mother and one of my uncles came down to visit. That really was the best of times. I don't get to see a lot of my family. I have a cousin here in Florida, but outside of that my nearest relatives are at least six hours away. So I relish any time spent with family, and this weekend was no different.

After hanging out on Friday evening, I woke Saturday at dawn to the sound of my uncle, already out and working on my yard. My family is odd that way. When they visit they usually choose a "project" to work on at my house, like helping me paint a room or install a garbage disposal. In this case it was to professionally edge and trim my lawn. Being at least somewhat conscientious, I dragged myself out of bed and got to work by his side. Before long, my mom was between us. We had my yard looking better than it had in a long time. And as I've said before, yard work is a GREAT workout made all the better by the sense of satisfaction when you look back on what you have accomplished.

So I get to spend quality time with the family, get a workout and get a great looking yard out of the deal. What's wrong with that? Well, I'll tell you:

"Buy one, get one free" boxes of...ice cream bars.

My uncle ran to the store on Saturday and that's what he came back with. See, I don't keep snacks around the house, and there's a reason why. If I have that kind of food nearby, I tend to eat it.

As I've said before, I want moderation in my life. I don't want to completely omit treats like these. Taken on rare occasions (and in small amounts), ice cream or other snacks aren't going to "break" me.

But in this case? Well, I gave in and indulged my sweet tooth. Four ice cream bars in as many days is NOT moderation. Yeesh!

When I started this blog, I made a vow to be honest -- to readers and to myself. And honestly? I stumbled last weekend. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. I could have abstained. I could have had just one. But...I didn't.

It isn't all bad news, though. Apart from the ice cream, we ate rather well. Grilled chicken, broccoli, salmon, mixed fruits. Yum. Between that and the exercise (my mom and I continued the yard work into Sunday!), I feel that overall I probably "broke even." At least that's what I'm telling myself. In any case, I'm back on the wagon now--grumbling to myself as I work that much harder to "pay" for those darned ice cream bars.




Roland Gutwein 11:14 a.m. | 10/18/10

ADVENTURES

When I was a kid, my parents were great about taking my sister (and later sisters) and I on family vacations. These typically happened during the summer, but also during the end of the year during the holiday season. We'd often travel quite a distance -- between Michigan, New Jersey, South Dakota and even as far west as Utah and Wyoming. They always began with a lot of sitting in the car, sure -- but once we got to where we were going, the adventure started.

We went to national parks all over the place. We visited zoos and museums. There were the legendary (in my mind at least) visits to the Jersey shore and its amusement parks. We walked through Central Park in New York. Took ferry rides across Lake Michigan. There were hikes through canyons. Trail riding through the Black Hills. Hiking in the forests of Vermont. Fishing in the hills of South Carolina. I even took a couple trips to England (and Wales and Scotland) with my dad.

Even when we weren't off on a trip, my home life as a kid usually had me outside as much as possible. Winters in South Dakota may be difficult (a lot of snow shoveling), but snow forts are AWESOME. And bike riding through the streets of Eagle Butte would take me (literally) from one end of the town to the other.

I grew up thinking that this kind of thing was normal. As I settled in to my adult life, however, I didn't really notice the fact that things began to get more and more mundane. There were bills to pay. There was work to do. And on the weekend, often the last thing on my mind was to get out and DO something. I mean - I had a hard week. I deserved my rest, right? For me, it was easy to just fall into a routine of work, rest, work, rest. Oh sure, there is the occasional trip to visit family or friends. But they seemed to be few and far between. So gradual was the change that I didn't really notice it. Pretty soon a trip to the mall or to a restaurant was about all the "adventure" I was getting.

A couple friends of mine just recently had a child. The mom of this couple (a good friend of mine for years) has embarked upon planning and undertaking a series of adventures for her family. As honorary uncle, I was invited. Honestly? My first instinct was to decline. After all, weekends are for resting. Right? I went on the first of these adventures anyway -- and I was hooked. I very quickly came to remember why I enjoyed doing these things when I was younger. And to have a fun, energetic, toddling nephew along? Well, it is just pure awesome.

Over the past few years, I've gone to a zoo (our very own Jacksonville Zoo). I've visited a Natural History Museum (complete with a beautiful butterfly garden). I've gone to three different state parks. (Who knew Florida had so many ravines!?) I've gone to a splash park in St. Augustine (toddler + splash park = much amusement). I'm having adventures again.

Part of changing your life is changing your mindset. And I would say that these adventures have probably done more to change my mindset than any diet or exercise program could do alone. In my book, the best kind of exercise is the kind you don't even recognize. Hiking through parks (or chasing after toddlers), I find myself getting a heck of a workout and not realizing it until I get home. I look forward to the next adventure, and I would encourage everyone to find some of their own. Florida has a great system of parks and attractions -- and I know for a fact that many other states do as well. So check out what it is you want to see online. Find a place you're up for exploring -- and go have an adventure.

P.S. If you have the option, bring a toddler with you. You'll definitely get a workout, then.

P.P.S. And I am still working on getting to the doctor for my physical.




Roland Gutwein 2:10 p.m. | 10/11/10

Not knowing.

Ignorance is bliss. That's what they say. More often than not, I find myself going along with that "philosophy." It is easy to assume that everything is fine and just go on as you always have. Unfortunately, that's the kind of thinking that brought me to my current condition. Or rather, what my condition was when I started all of this. I'd like to think that I'm doing a lot better now -- and a little better every week.

However, I don't really know just how well I'm doing. I mean, I feel much better now than I have in years. But medically? I'm not sure exactly what my status is in a few key areas. Cholesterol? I don't know my numbers. Blood sugar? Don't know those either. Blood pressure was fine the last time I had it checked, but that is something that should be monitored regularly. I have a tendency not to check into things until there is a problem. That's fine when you're talking about your TV or your washing machine or even your car. But your health? Well, no. That's not good at all.

I really got to thinking about this while exploring "Life's Simple 7" (the seven health factors the American Heart Association uses to measure ideal cardiovascular health at the website mylifecheck.org). Life's Simple 7 also got me thinking about a few events in my life that had a big impact. Like when my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She was a lot like me when it came to hospital checkups. She put it off. She felt fine. She didn't need a doctor because -- as far as she knew -- everything was fine. She felt fine up until the moment that she didn't. Only then did she go to the doctor. And that's when she found out about her cancer -- which had already advanced to a serious state by that point.

Though her prognosis wasn't good (they only gave her a few years, as I recall), my grandmother resolved to fight it. And she did. And she outlived her prognosis by around 15 years.

So, what did I learn from all of this? First of all, I learned that a person's will and willingness to "do what is right" with his or her body can have a profound effect on even a serious health condition. And secondly, I learned (or so I thought), that catching a problem early is very important -- to stop it before it becomes an even larger problem.

But did I really learn that last part? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem so. I need a physical. I need to know what my numbers are, and I need to take action to make certain that if there is a problem, I fix it now. Ignorance may be bliss, but you can wind up paying for that bliss. Especially when you consider that my grandparents on the other side of the family both died of heart-related complications. There is a history of that in my family. It's scary, yes. But it is also something that you really CAN affect by what you do and how you live.

So now what? Well, it is time to suck it up and get an appointment for that physical. And as much as my procrastinating self hates to do this, I am setting a time limit. By the end of next week, I have to get that appointment set. And if I don't? Well, then I'm going to have to answer to this blog, aren't I?

I also resolve that once I DO get that physical, I'm going to finish with the Life's Simple 7 and take the full blown heart quiz to see exactly where I stand--and how I can do better. And who knows, maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised by some of the things I find? Either way, "not knowing" just isn't going to work anymore.



Roland Gutwein 10:45 a.m. | 10/2/10

The Heart Walk

It is my belief - and has been my experience - that humans are "communal" beings. We work best when we're working together. It is part of our nature to do so. Any task you attempt seems somehow more achievable when you're working with others. My grandparents and my parents - my mom especially - were always great at fostering a "team spirit." Yard work, for example, was something we did together. Yes, it was a chore, but it was something that got done all the faster when everyone was doing their share. And more than that, working together produced good feelings. There was a sense of accomplishment. But more than that, it was a "shared" experience. Even work experiences can help bind people closer together.

Things like this helped shape who I am today. And I've found that while I don't particularly like doing yard work by myself, I actually look forward to those times when I'm out with friends or family doing it. Yeah, I know it's weird, but there you have it.

So, in my mind, working with others is great. But when it comes to my own health, I find myself (more often than not) "alone." It is a very personal, day-to-day struggle to eat right and to exercise regularly. I imagine it's the same for a lot of people. You can get to feeling that you truly are alone, and that can be disheartening for the more communal of us. That is one of the reasons why some kind of support network can really help when it comes to getting healthy.

As I've said before, I've been running off and on for weeks now. It is a mental challenge for me to summon the gumption to get out there when the couch and TV are so inviting. From time to time, however, I have gone walking or running with friends. Even if it is just with one other person, I suddenly find the task much easier.

Whatever the reason, I am suddenly much more motivated to get out and do stuff. I also find that I tend to push myself further when I'm with someone than when I am by myself. I don't give myself an easy out. A lot of that has to do with my upbringing, I guess - I want to do my part. I don't want to let my "exercise buddy" down. And when I'm done exercising, I still get that sense of a team accomplishment, and that feels very good. Anything you can do that equates "doing healthy things" to "feeling good" is a huge bonus. So if it's within your power, get an exercise buddy, even if it's only a couple times a week.

What really got me thinking about all of this was my participation recently in the Start! Heart Walk in downtown Jacksonville. I went with my team from the Dalton Agency and was surprised at just how HUGE an event it really was. You talk about a feeling of community... wow! To see and be among thousands of people, all of whom are dealing with and thinking about the same issues I am, is a powerful thing. For me, it was something that really recharged my batteries. It inspired me to keep up with what I'm doing and to do better - to do my part.



Roland Gutwein 1:13 p.m. | 9/27/10

THE SIMPLE SEVEN

I began all of this because of my work with the American Heart Association. In helping design for their advertising, one of the things I came upon was the "Life's Simple 7." These are the seven things you can do to have a healthier heart. They are as follows:

1. Get Active
Check!
This was the first thing I realized I needed to do. And so far it is probably the thing I am doing best at. As I've mentioned before, walking is at the core of my activity and the exercise that I enjoy the most. Not only do I get a workout, I have time to just 'think' as I'm out and about - a quiet 40-60 minutes to myself. In a hectic life that kind of time for reflection, undisturbed by the "noise" of work or entertainment, can feel very good. Running is something I'm still working myself into and something I will try to continue - especially in the weight-loss part of my change in lifestyle. But walking is the exercise that I will definitely stick with for the rest of my life.

2. Control Cholesterol
Need to start on this.
Truth be told, I don't pay a lot of attention to those nutritional facts on the back of foodstuffs. But that is something that has to change. It is probably going to be one of the more difficult things I do as I move forward, because it is going to have to be an entirely new habit to form.

3. Eat Better
In progress.
As I mentioned before, my love of food (and particularly of food that probably isn't the best for me), has always been an obstacle for losing weight and staying in shape. I have taken the first steps in scaling back how much I eat and now I'm mixing more healthy foods into the mix. I have found that, for me, it works better to slowly change my habits than to change everything suddenly. Hey, it worked for my soda habit! In this case, it isn't as much "work" (in my mind at least) as checking nutritional facts, since there are healthy recipes already provided by the AHA.

4. Manage Blood Pressure
In progress.
As of my last checkup, my blood pressure was doing just fine. And thankfully, through most of my life, I haven't had many instances of elevated blood pressure. That being said, however, I know I really need to monitor my blood pressure more diligently.

5. Lose Weight
In progress.
This was my main reason for making these changes. I know that not only will I feel better (physically and mentally), I will be healthier. Since beginning this whole process weeks ago, I have lost about 12 pounds -- maybe a little more. But that leaves me with a lot to go, and I've hit a bit of a plateau at the moment. This is (from my own experience) a kind of disheartening thing (no pun intended), but I am setting that aside and keeping the course. The weight will come off if I keep following this path. Patience.

6. Reduce Blood Sugar
Need to start on this.
This should probably be higher up on my list of things to do. My family has a history of diabetes and it does scare me a little to think about that. And as with most people, I don't like to dwell on things that frighten me. So the thing that should be most important to me has been pushed to the back of my mind. Of course, many of the other simple seven steps (eating habits, weight control, exercise) help in doing this, so maybe I'm not as far behind as I thought I was. But when I go in for my physical, I'm going to have to make a point of asking about this.

7. Stop Smoking
Check!
I've never smoked. So this was an easy one! Don't intend to pick up the habit, either. I still do worry about secondhand smoke, however - having had a smoker for a college roommate. But hopefully I survived that year with my lungs and heart intact

Now, looking back on these seven, I see that I've started but still have a way to go - and some goals to achieve. But even if I can't check off everything, it is nice to have a guide to look at and measure my actions against. I also have to say that in reading through the Simple 7 on the AHA's website, I love the language they use to describe each one. It is concise and easy to understand. I also appreciated the success stories each of the seven has along with them. People like me, making a change - and succeeding. Some folks may think that stories like this are corny but to me they're inspiring. Here's hoping my own blog here can be inspiring for someone else out there.

Until next week, keep checking those food labels!




Roland Gutwein 10:22 a.m. | 9/20/10

HURDLES

For all my positive thoughts and actions, I find that changing to a healthier lifestyle can be a lot of work. Even with my commitment to better health, I find myself stumbling now and then.

Case in point. I've had a long day at work. Had to stay a bit late to get things finished up (it happens). I get home and go about my usual routine, then comes time to exercise. Well, quite honestly, there are nights when all I want to do is sit on my couch for a couple hours and watch TV or a movie. I tell myself: "You've had a long day. You deserve to just sit and vegetate."

This is an insidious kind of thing. Because it seems so "justified." And maybe it is, every once in a while. But it is so easy to allow something like that to become a habit. Or rather, to slip BACK INTO that habit of justifying why I shouldn't be doing this or that. It's just this "one time," right?

Insidious!

I've had to devise tactics to overcome some of these hurdles. Others? I'm still working on.

Hurdle #1: Snacks
I love snacks - or more particularly "snack food." Potato chips, crackers, sweets - you name it. Worse than just loving them, I have very little self-control when it comes to eating "just a couple."

Solution:
I have simply decided to not have snacks at my house. Period. I may buy the occasional small bag of chips with lunch or have a candy bar every other week, but other than that, I do not keep snacks around my house. Out of sight. Out of mind. Off my waistline. Oh, and I've tried healthy snacks as well. That helps. But for whatever reason, just not getting into the habit of "snacking" works better for me.

Hurdle #2: Evening grazing
Even if I don't have snacks in my house, there are times (usually after 9 in the evening and especially after a good walk), when I feel the urge to eat. Not the NEED to eat, just the urge.

Solution:
Every time I find myself walking to the cupboard or refrigerator, I have resolved to ask myself aloud: "Do you REALLY need to eat this right now?" More and more often, the answer has been no. I "want" to eat it, sure, but need to? No. So far, I think this tactic is working. But then, I've always been weird about holding conversations with myself. So maybe this is just a "me" thing.

Hurdle #3: Exercise
The core of "Get Roland Off the Couch." Adjusting my diet helps, but I won't be able to achieve my goals if I don't actually get up and do something. I've never been a particularly athletic person, and the term "couch potato" definitely applies (applied) to me.

Solution:
Walking. This is my "go-to" method of exercising. At minimum I will walk 1.8 miles a night. I can do it in almost any weather, from the sweltering heat of Florida summer nights to the surprisingly biting cold of its winter. Add to this the fact that it is low impact, and it is the perfect way for an overweight guy like me to start putting a dent in his flab.

But this is just the beginning. As I mentioned in my original post, I have started to throw running into the mix ...which brings me to my next hurdle.

Hurdle #4: Running
In the past, I've never enjoyed running. My whole time in school (k-12) I always dreaded those presidential physical fitness things. I always told myself that "I'm just not built for running." Those times I've tried it in the past, I always felt like I could never catch my breath. Surely there must be something medically wrong with me, I thought. Maybe I have some breathing irregularity in my nose that prevents me from taking in enough air. Yeah. That's it.

Solution:
In talking with a friend of mine, I mentioned my self-diagnosis - my so-called "breathing problem." My friend, just suggested I try breathing differently. You see, I had always thought you breathe in for four steps, then exhale for four steps. Symmetrical, right? Only it didn't seem to work for me. With a shrug (not seeing how it could help), I altered my breathing. Inhale for five steps, exhale for three. Lo and behold, I could breathe. I could run! And I began to like running too! My little disclaimer: While this method did not come from the American Heart Association, and there is no scientific research to back it up, it sure did work for me!

It was shortly after this breakthrough that I, for the first time ever in my life, ran 2.4 miles. Awesome! I was on cloud nine. But that ... brings me to my next hurdle.

Hurdle #5: You're never DONE
Running 2.4 miles was a major thing for me. But then I went out the next night and had to run again. And I realized it is something I am going to have to keep doing. An irrational part of my brain thought that with this accomplished I was somehow "done." Well, you're not "done." You're never "done." And when I realized this, I became (again irrationally) discouraged. In fact, I stopped running regularly. It became sporadic. I've kept up with the walking, yes. But darn it, I need to start running regularly again. That is all there is to it.

Solution:
Get out and run. Duh! Get over my discouragement and just get back to work. Focus on those feelings of accomplishment I had when I did those first 2.4 miles. It's easier said than done, but somehow, saying it like this (in print) helps to get me motivated - and so did listening to my favorite tunes. I know what you're thinking. "But Running isn't for me!" That's ok. Get involved in another form of exercise such a biking or a team sport that you can have fun while doing. It will help you stay on track.

So there you have it. Just a few problems I'm facing and the ways I'm trying to overcome them. I'll bet a lot of folks have had the same kind of hurdles to face, and I hope that something I've said will make sense and maybe even work for them, too. Until next week!




Roland Gutwein 12:57 am | 9/13/10

MODERATION

There is such a thing as "too much of a good thing."

This is something I have always known but don't usually pay attention to. I've never been a smoker. I only rarely drink. But food? Well, that's another matter. I love food. It is a grand cosmic ‘joke' that the most tasty food (and drink) seems to be the stuff that is the worst for your health. So I suppose you can say that food is one of my main vices.

As I made my decision to change, this was the main obstacle I faced (and continue to face). Simply put, I don't want to give up my vice. I guess that's why they CALL it a vice. But the rational side of me realized that I have tempered my diet. Obviously just going on as I always have is not going to work.

Moderation. That is what I am seeing as the first step. I'm looking at changing my lifestyle, not just "going on a diet." I've been on dozens of diets. They work great ... for a little while, then I slip back into my old habits and I'm back to square one. No, what I'm looking at here is a slow and permanent change to the way I do things. In the short term and possibly even in the long term, I don't intend to give up all my guilty food pleasures cold turkey (Mmmm ... turkey). And honestly, a donut every once in a while (once a month?) isn't going to ruin or sabotage what I'm doing. A doughnut every day? That's going to get me into trouble. The same goes for just about all "bad food." Realistically, I can't ever see myself giving up those dishes of food I really enjoy. But I can see getting to the point where those dishes that (perhaps) aren't the most healthy are a rare treat, not a weekly event.

I've already taken the first step in this process. Over the course of a couple months I have reduced my soda-drinking habit down from roughly five 20-ounce cans per day (yikes) to just one. Sure, they were diet sodas already, but there are still a lot of problems associated with carbonated beverages, especially if you drink them to excess (which I was doing). I can see myself drawing down even further from where I am now, relying more and more upon plain old water (thank you, filtered pitcher). Moderation.

And you know what? By slowly reducing my intake of soda, I've found that my cravings have waned. Yeah, it was rough those first couple weeks, but it got better. I still enjoy having soda, but I don't NEED to have another ... and another. Using this as a model, I'm going to try to phase out other bad eating habits of mine – replace them with something better for me.

Of course right now I have this mindset that "better for me" = tastes yucky. But that really isn't the case. After all, I helped lay out a bunch of recipe cards for the American Heart Association. And, amazingly, they weren't all about bean sprouts or tofu.* For example: braised beef steaks with zesty sauce. That sounds ... really good, actually. Grilled chicken with strawberry and pineapple salsa? Yeah. So, my mindset is skewed. I've got to try these things.

Eating healthy doesn't mean eating bland. And THAT is something I can get behind.

So next week? I'm going to try one of these recipes – and eliminate those microwave burritos that I love so much. Small steps, maybe, but steps forward in any case.

Talk to you guys next week!

*No disrespect intended toward sprouts or tofu. In fact, I had this awesome tofu burrito the other week. ... Mmmm.




Roland Gutwein 11:30 am | 9/6/10

Behind Every Good Roland ...

... is another Roland! Hi. I suppose introductions are in order. I'm Roland. I work as an Art Director for the Dalton Agency. And I am one of the creative minds behind the American Heart Association's new campaign--including the interactive web banner titled "Get Roland off the Couch." That name pretty much says it all as far as the goal of the banner. We want people to get up and get moving, to make a healthy choice in food--to do SOMEthing today, even if it is just one (seemingly) small thing.

As I was working on the AHA campaign, I began to think of my own life. And like a lot of people, I wasn't entirely satisfied with what I found. I consider myself a pretty average guy. And in that regard (for Americans at least) it means that I don't always make the healthiest choices. I'm overweight and I have been for the past decade (to the tune of about 50 pounds. Oof.) And here I was working on ads for the American Heart Association. Yeah, it makes you think.

When you factor in my age (soon to be 40, oof again), I have had a LOT to think about. I'm nearing a major landmark in my life, entering "middle-age." I can't rely on a younger metabolism to burn calories the way it used to. I feel that I don't have the luxury of time to put off getting healthy. The way I figure it, I have a real chance to turn my life around and give myself a long and healthy "midlife"and beyond.

My Grandfather was (and is) a major inspiration in this regard. He lived for over ninety-six years, and except for the last two weeks of his life, he was the picture of health. He ate healthy, he exercised, he worked in his wood shop, he walked his dog, he traveled to see his family--he LIVED all of those years. Heck, when he finally did pass away, he still had a valid driver's license. How cool is that? What is stopping me from living a life like that? Well, my own habits could. So things have to change.

The question is, where do you start? If you look at all the obstacles (most of which are of my own making), you can start to feel overwhelmed. But is it really all that complicated? In working with American Heart Association, learning about its programs and goals, I began to see that maybe it wasn't. So that's where I came to my decision. It was time to finally commit to that change in my life. So here I am.

Though this is my introduction, and a kind of "proclamation" of my commitment to change, the truth is, I have already begun. The first step for me was, ironically enough, to get off the couch. It began about two months ago, when I started walking again. Then I started running--something I never liked and could never do. But you know what? Last week, for the first time in my life I ran 2.4 miles. And I probably could have run farther. And if I can do that while I'm this overweight and out of shape, just imagine what I can do when I finally DO drop the pounds. It is a heartening and inspiring thought.

So that's who I am, what's driving me and what I'm doing now. Am I going to make it to my goal? There is a part of me that is afraid I won't--that I'll "wimp out" somehow. And taking on this blog is an extra pressure. Because if I do "fail," then it's going to be a public failure. But you know what? I don't think I will. Like I said, I have a lot of things driving me to do this. Something feels different this time than it did all the other times I've promised myself I'd get healthy. I can do it.

But anyway, this is already starting to get long, so I'll stop now. Welcome to the blog. I'll be updating everyone on my progress as I delve into the AHA's website and all the things on it that can help me achieve my goals. Yes, I'm going to make missteps along the way. No, I'm not going to change everything right away. But I am going try, even if it is just one small change at a time.

Today is the day I get off the couch for real. Today is the day I change.