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Health, fitness ideal New Year’s Resolutions

 

Written by David Vergun

U.S. ArmyWashington, D.C. – Working out or losing weight often tops the list for New Year’s resolutions — with varying degrees of success experienced by those who do.

Those resolutions can be achieved painlessly, and, people don’t have to wait until 2014 to get started, according to a family medicine doctor at Madigan Army Medical Center in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM, Wash.

Dr. (Col.) John O’Brien, who is also chief of Operational Medicine, is convinced he knows what he’s talking about because he said it worked for him.

Dr. (Col.) John O'Brien poses for a photo a few months ago with his wife Karen and son Thomas, who is 11. Karen is now serving as a surgeon in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Dr. (Col.) John O’Brien poses for a photo a few months ago with his wife Karen and son Thomas, who is 11. Karen is now serving as a surgeon in Kabul, Afghanistan.

He’s referring to using Performance Triad, a concept that was promoted by the surgeon general of the Army that involves getting the proper amount and quality of sleep, activity and nutrition.

Like many, O’Brien said his weakest leg of the triad was activity, as he was already eating the right amount and quality of food and sleeping well.

Although he was an avid runner, O’Brien said that wasn’t really enough to bring his weight down from 228 pounds to his goal of 210. He’d been trying to do that for 10 years.

“At age 51, that dream seemed to be just that, a dream,” he admitted.

The more he ran and the more he tried, the more elusive that dream became, he said, adding that injuries sometimes caused his weight to spike back up.

Just as he was losing all hope, O’Brien said something momentous occurred. JBLM was chosen as the site for the first Performance Triad pilot course and he and others at Madigan were asked to provide overwatch.

Soldiers in the pilot and medical staff were briefed on the program and provided with Fitbits — wristbands devices that track sleep, activities and caloric intake.

Thus began O’Brien’s road to health and fitness, a journey he said started August 7th, of this year.

In the ensuing 16 weeks, O’Brien lost 33 pounds at a good steady rate of about 2 pounds per week, he said, which resulted in a weight this month of 195, far surpassing his 210 dream weight.

Not only that, he said his body mass index dropped from 29.4 down to 24.7 and his body fat content is now 17.9 percent, which is in the moderately lean category.

How He Did It

The key, he said, was altering the type and frequency of activity.

For activity, Performance Triad advocates walking at least 10,000 steps a day, not all at once but in segments, in addition to other normal Army fitness requirements.

So O’Brien watched as his Fitbit recorded about 17,000 steps, or eight miles per day.

The walking really burned a lot of calories, wasn’t as arduous as running, and eliminated running-related injuries, he said.

And, he didn’t at all change his eating or sleeping patterns.

“I didn’t starve myself, I simply walked the weight off,” he said.

Another bonus was that Fitbit measured the calories burned as well as the steps taken, so O’Brien said he could adjust those rheostats to achieve the desired weight loss for a given day or week and plan ahead.

“I’m a math guy and so this to me was simply an easy math problem,” he said.

Losing the pounds had a number of benefits for O’Brien.

“When I started the program in August I was taking an acid reflux medicine as well a cholesterol lowering medicine,” he confided. The ensuing “weight loss resulted in lowering my bad cholesterol and elevating my good cholesterol and eliminating acid reflux. So now I’m off both medications.”

O’Brien’s co-workers and family noticed the change in weight as well and he had to buy new sets of uniforms since he had shrunk so much.

Not only did losing the weight improve his appearance and health, he said he also feels much better now.

Last week, O’Brien went to see his mother in upstate New York. He said there was a lot of holiday food, it was cold — about 10 degress — and the sidewalks were covered in ice and snow. In short, he was off the plan and gained three or four pounds as a result.

“I didn’t want to starve myself or ruin the holiday spirit,” he said, “so I just enjoyed and ate pumpkin rolls and other home-cooked delicacies,” he said.

Being the math guy and having planned to be off the program for a week, O’Brien said that as of today he’s back on the plan and he calculated his glide slope to 195 to be just a couple of weeks away.

In short, O’Brien had a wonderful time with family and friends and is now excited to be taking steps again.

In the future, he won’t need to take 17,000 steps a day, however.

O’Brien calculated that to maintain 195 will only require about 12,000 steps a day — unless there’s a holiday visit like the one this week. In other words, it’s a sensible plan that can factor in holiday fun, he said.

He added that he will likely add some weight lifting into his routine for balance.

O’Brien has been so excited with all that’s happened that he’s been evangelizing Performance Triad.

For example, he got a co-worker to start walking three or four times a day and she went from 270 to 230 pounds over the course of a few months.

“She and others tell me, ‘Now you’ve taken away all my reasons not to do this,’” he said, meaning that it’s easy, convenient, painless and even fun.

O’Brien has also had a pep rally of sorts of a group of 7th Infantry Division spouses, who he said, promised to buy Fitbits for their families.

“If you get the spouses excited, you change the whole culture of the Army,” he said.

Those who don’t have Fitbits can use smartphone apps or simply use the bathroom scales, he advised.

Another idea is to use installation wellness centers, which he said provide classes and guidance on activity and nutrition and have devices to measure metabolism and body fat. The wellness center at JBLM even offers child care right on premise for parents who can’t leave their little ones at home.

Performance Triad will be a real “game-changer” in health and fitness, O’Brien predicted. In essence, each of the three legs is mutually supportive. “If you walk, you sleep well, if you sleep well, you don’t crave chips and junk food as much.”

Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho’s goal, he said, is “to switch from a health-care system to a system for health,” meaning that if you take care of yourself you won’t be as likely to need medical attention later on.

As to O’Brien’s immediate goal, he said he’s going to watch his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys play and “hopefully beat” the Philadelphia Eagles.

But instead of watching from the couch with beer and chips, O’Brien said he’ll be on his treadmill, letting Fitbit count the steps.

“I won’t be doing any step counting,” he said. “I’ll be too much into the game to even notice that I’m walking.”


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