By Kelly Sedgwick, Take Control Health Coach
Bill was smart with how he used the Take Control program. He saw it as an opportunity — a vehicle to get him moving in the right direction — despite his challenges with back pain. Rather than focusing on the numbers, he really had his heart set on the ability to get out and hunt.
Bill worked diligently at his own pace. He recognized that he needed to begin farther back than he’d hoped, but he didn’t beat himself up about it. He just recognized it, worked at it, and gradually saw improvement.
What made you decide to join Take Control’s Lifestyle Management program? I honestly joined on a bit of a whim. Shortly after my first health screening in 2015, I got a friendly phone call from Take Control folks telling me that I qualified for the program and asking me whether I wanted to participate. At that moment my answer could have gone either way, but the friendly voice and no-downside approach influenced me to say, “sure, why not.” I’m very glad I did.
What were your reasons/motivation for wanting to make changes regarding your health? Years of “driving a desk for a living” and a series of painful lower back injuries had left me in neglectful shape. High cholesterol runs in the family, and I knew on some level that it was something that I would eventually have to watch. My 2015 health screening revealed my total cholesterol to be at a scary 290. I was well on my way to heart-attack territory, and I was only 35. That was one of those wake-up calls that concentrates the mind. I began thinking about the many things that I liked doing and still wanted to accomplish in life. At the top of the list was home ownership (and all the physical demands that entails), backpacking, fishing, and hunting trips. My wife and I were even discussing becoming parents, and the thought of not being there to raise my (at the time) hypothetical kid was sobering, as well.
What are the biggest challenges and accomplishments in your health since you started? What do you feel was your biggest obstacle? The biggest challenge of getting started was simply getting started. Inertia is a very real thing, and deep-worn physical and mental ruts are tough to break. Beyond that, my always present, usually mild, occasionally debilitating back pain made it hard to progress in any real exercise program. My back was in such bad shape at times that even mild physical activity could send me to the local urgent care, writhing in pain and in need of medication to function on even a basic level. At the beginning of the program, setbacks were the norm, and this reoccurring injury made it feel like I was never going to be able to progress. This project felt like fighting a war on multiple fronts, and setbacks in one area would cause setbacks in another. “Exercise” presented itself as a goal, a solution, an obstacle, and something that could actually harm me from time to time, if that makes any sense. In any case, I felt stuck. Cole, my Take Control coach at the time, helped me realized that I needed to start WAY back at the beginning — physical therapy — in order to push the reset button. Slowly, painfully began the non-linear process of repairing my lower back so that I could begin very mild exercise and gradually progress from there. Progress was slow and arduous at times, but I eventually began to win back mobility, strength, endurance and confidence.
What did you do to stay motivated? There were definitely times that I wanted to give up — especially at the beginning. It’s a rotten feeling to know that you’re doing everything you’re supposed to, following all the experts’ advice, seeing tiny bits of progress, and then having everything fall apart and the lower back pain return. And when it did, I had to stop everything, literally lay on the floor, put my feet up on a chair or couch, and stare at the ceiling for hours or days on end. During that downtime, I would often pass the hours listening to hunting and fishing podcasts and videos. I started to get really excited and motivated about the 2016 hunting season, and I even dared to dream about roaming the mountains on foot looking for deer and elk — one of those unmet life goals I had often thought about in the preceding years. This was a ridiculous dream at the time for someone who, on those really bad days, needed help putting on my own socks. But I can be forgetful and stubborn, and those qualities kept me dreaming, and, unlikely though it was, I set my sights on getting well enough to hunt in 2016. I doubled down on my motivation and recommitted to doing everything the physical therapist and doctor told me to do. I had to recommit a few more times after that, too, but each ensuing setback was gradually less severe and shorter in duration. I began to bounce back quicker and develop some resiliency, which served as verifiable positive reinforcement. I was beginning to reclaim bits of my life and all of the sudden, extended hikes in the backcountry didn’t seem to be such a distant dream. During this time, an interesting thing happened. I actually stopped thinking altogether about my cholesterol or any typical training metrics one might set for improvement. I just simply thought about getting myself in good enough shape to get out in the mountains again, under my own weight, and be able to carry a pack. Everything that happened next followed from that mindset.
What have you gained through this process? No sane person would have voted me the most likely person to notch an elk tag in 2016, but in November I did just that. It wasn’t easy and it involved months of training in the gym, weeks of scouting in the mountains, and long days of hiking a lot of miles over steep terrain. But eventually sweat, hard work, determination, and a dash of luck coalesced into the opportunity I had been imagining for months. Getting the animal out was a slow process that took numerous trips over two days, but I packed every last bit out on my own back using my own two legs. That’s an accomplishment I’ll remember forever and a memory made sweeter by knowing what I had to first go through before showing up for opening day. A freezer full of elk meat is a very nice fringe benefit, but what I really gained through this was a better understanding of my body’s own resiliency and awareness of my ability to simply decide to change course. Inertia, after all, works both ways — it may be tough to get started and establish a routine, but keeping things going is relatively easy by comparison.
And the hypothetical kid my wife and I had been talking about earlier? She’s not so hypothetical now. My baby girl will be born in March, 2017. I swelled with pride at Christmas this year, as my wife and I ate Montana bull elk, knowing my unborn daughter was receiving the nutritional gift of the elk through my hard work and persistence. I’ve given her a father who is in better shape, and who (thanks to exercise, lean meat, and a statin), now has a cholesterol number that is down to a less outrageous 180. I’m nowhere near as good as I’ll be, but I’m a lot better than I was. My family deserves that and so do I.
What differences do you see in yourself and the impact it has had on your health and life? I’m still the same lazy, stubborn, flawed person that allowed my physical health to slowly deteriorate. But thanks to Cole, Kelly, and others at Take Control, I’ve identified some life hacks that allow me to recognize those challenges and work around them. One of the biggest differences is that I say “yes” more often to invitations to do things that involve physical exertion. As recently as a year ago, I would regularly turn down invitations to go skiing, for fear that my back would suddenly go out. Now, my back episodes are much fewer, less severe, more manageable, and less frightening. The resiliency I’ve built has increased my confidence to venture further out from my comfort zone, which has, in turn, created opportunities for larger successes, which again increases confidence. I’m in a positive feedback loop now that reinforces my commitment to exercising, eating well, and taking care of myself.
What advice or encouragement would you give others in our program? The main advice I have is simply to follow that old Nike tagline — just do it. No matter your starting point, just accept it, and begin as slowly and thoughtfully as your situation allows. And when you don’t feel like keeping up with your commitment, do it anyway. Eventually the changes become part of your daily routine, and from there everything gets easier. It’s probably also worth pointing out that, for me, it was far more effective to focus on a genuine aspirational motivator (“bring home elk”) that complemented my fitness goals rather than to obsess about abstract obligations like “lower my cholesterol” or “lose some weight.” In my case, those secondary benefits manifested as happy byproducts, not ends unto themselves, so consider talking with your Take Control coach about identifying your own fun, meaningful, big-picture goal.
The best part of his accomplishment was hearing the pride in his voice as he told me about his hunting trip. He recognized the consistent effort he invested in his goal and was incredibly proud and grateful to have been able to accomplish it. It’s the ultimate goal as a health coach to have someone prove to themselves that the CAN achieve the goal and to know the FEEL the pride in that achievement. Was one of my favorite coaching calls with him – I could not have been happier for him.
- Reduced total cholesterol by 119 points
- Decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol by 111 points
- Maintained HDL (good) cholesterol levels
- Reduced systolic blood pressure by 10 points and diastolic blood pressure by 20 points
- Reduced back problems
- Accomplished major goal of harvesting and hauling a Bull Elk on his own
- Is expecting his first child as a healthier man
- Now accepts friend’s invitations for physical activities