How one Delaware Journalist is turning the tables for better health

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Want a healthier you? You’ll need a healthier diet, the ability to make sacrifices, and an opportunity to get plenty of exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to give up the foods you crave the most, but you will have to watch the amount you consume and the frequency. I’ve got some great health stories coming in the next few weeks, will you join me for a better you?

If your new to this series, my name is George Shea, and I am a journalist from Delaware. I’ve been on a lifestyle improvement challenge for the past 30 days. I’m proving to myself that yes, I too can accomplish a better me. Before we get started, I have to admit  that it’s embarrassing to share my story with you, and I never imagined that I would, but perhaps my story can help others.

Last April, I was laid off from my job. I worked at The News Journal Media Group for over 14 years. Like most, I started at the bottom of the ladder. I started working from a warehouse office in New Castle where I managed a number of publications and delivery contractors. I also was responsible for working in the field where these products were being delivered to. I had to ensure they were being delivered, how they were being delivered, and the right amounts were being delivered. After about 2 years, the News Journal began lay off’s in an effort to save itself from Chapter 11, and, yes, there were also furloughs. I was a lucky one. I can’t begin to tell you how many layoffs I survived, but my colleagues and I knew it was going to happen, and we were ready for it.

After the first two lay offs, they shut down my office and the warehouse our staff was working in. I then moved into the News Journal building and worked in administration as a data support specialist in the Circulation Department where I managed data, looked for problems, ran audits, worked on lengthy corporate projects, and met with corporate staff. After a few years, my job changed to operations support. I suddenly became the departments data expert. I knew systems inside and out and normally had an answer to fix things. Ideas, things that managers and corporate staff wanted to do and thought was impossible, I found a way.

So yeah, laid off after 14 years of minimal physical activity, not watching my weight, or making the right food choices finally caught up with me. So shortly after that, I went to the doctors for a check up. Oops..I had high blood pressure. I should have been dead. My reading was 220/120. That’s dangerous. Very dangerous. I’m surprised my doctor didn’t call an ambulance. She put me on Lisinopril, but she started me on a 20 mg dose. I didn’t know it then, but I’m learning now that it was the wrong dose. At the time, I began going for long walks in excess to 3 miles per day but I was not motivated and eventually slacked off.

After about a year since that doctor’s visit, my prescription ran out and had to go back in for another check up. That was over 30 days ago and the checkup was not good. My BMI was 35- that’s not a healthy weight. That means in medical terms, I am obese – even though I do not look it or carry the weight most would consider one to be obese. I am 48 years-old, 5’9, and I weigh in at 245 pounds. Again, this was 30 days ago. My doctor checked my heart and lungs. This is pretty normal when you go to the doctors office no matter what you’re seeing the doctor for. She said my lungs did not sound good. Okay, I’ll admit it, I have smoked cigarettes since I was about 18. Don’t know why. Perhaps it is the consequences of growing up around those who smoked and making poor decisions.I was given a higher dose of hypertension medicine and Chantax to help quit smoking. She said she will see me in 30 days, and when I come back, she wants to see some better results. She also mentioned that while making a lifestyle change, it is possible to come off the medicine.

When I left her office, I was scared. I was terrified of the fact she told me that my lungs didn’t sound good. I then had a choice to make. I could continue down the path to heart, lung, and other disease related to making poor health decisions, and have a shorter lifespan, or I could make better health decision and possibly live my life to the fullest. I decided I wanted to live a normal adult life. I mean, who wants to be in and out of doctors offices and hospitals for procedures and testing when all that can be avoided.

I then began my quest for a better me. That’s right. I nearly begged my doctor, making promises that most of her patients don’t even stick with. I learned something growing up, “Say what you do, do what you say” This means, if you say you’re going to do something, do it. There’s no excuses when you say you’re going to do something and then you don’t do it. You’re better off not saying it.

When I was younger I took jogs, was a volunteer firefighter, was in shape, and even played high school sports. I never imagined being over weight or not in shape.

So 30 days ago when I left my doctors office, I began looking at things differently. I began going on walks to help get a little cardio workout started. I started walking an average of 2 miles per day, then 3, then eventually 4 miles per day. I wanted to push myself. Every day I push myself to do more and I can’t begin to tell you how good I felt about myself while slowly increasing my walks and noticing I was actually feeling different about myself. Before I began this journey, I figured “fat people don’t get skinny” unless you’re dying of course. I didn’t think it was possible, but boy was I wrong.

After about 3 weeks of walking, I thought to myself, what else can I do? I then went and got a bike – you know the ones you see cyclists flying down the road on? I was motivated. I made a dream. I set a goal. The goal I set was to be able to race in a cycling race we have here in Wilmington every summer. It’s called the Wilmington Grand Prix, but it comes with challenges. Training. Lots of it because there are inclines that a beginner cyclist wouldn’t possibly be able to compete with other cyclists on. You also need a better bike. A bike with less weight. Those are the really expensive ones and finally you need less body weight. So yea, laugh if you want, but that’s my goal. I promise you I will be in that race eventually. Maybe not next year, or the year after that, but I am determined and motivated and will eventually be in that race.

I began cycling every other day. I started out just doing a couple of miles a day, but then I began to push myself. I began cycling between 4 and 10 miles when I rode. It’s not easy. For those who are in shape? piece of cake. I’ve seen young guys doing 20 or 30 miles like it was nothing. Imagine my weight. 245 pounds plus the bike weight of 25 pounds. That’s about 270 pounds you have to pedal. The inclines are the worst. This is my biggest weakness. I normally can only get about half way up an incline and that’s only if I do a pre-incline workout first. That means I ride on flat surface to get the heart pumping and awake before I hit the incline. I learned a hard lesson just last week. I went for the incline as soon as I got the bike out of the car. Bad move. I went straight for the incline as fast as I could and as soon as I hit the incline I pedaled hard. I wanted to get all the way to the top without having to walk it over. I never made it. I had to get off the bike about half way over and began walking. When I came to a complete stop, I began hyperventilating really bad. Scared to death, I almost called 9-1-1. I thought something was really wrong. What was only 1 to 2 minutes of really bad hyperventilating, seemed like 10 minutes. Eventually I got a normal breath. I had never had that happen to me before. I later learned that Hyperventilation symptoms usually improve with exercise, and in very rare cases people who hyperventilate can have low carbon dioxide blood levels that can cause a spasm of the blood vessels that supply the heart. If a person already has heart disease, this spasm may be enough to cause a heart attack. This is why they say go into a “cool down” period. It allows your heart to slow back down to a normal rate.

In addition to this rigorous exercise, I have also been making better food choices. I figured with a fast beating heart and high blood pressure, I needed to focus on what I could do to improve those two things. So in addition to daily exercise, I began watching the saturated fats, calories, cholesterol, and sodium intake. I watch my calories and I don’t. What I mean by this is, if my daily caloric intake is high and I’m exercising and burning calories, then that’s OK, right? However, if I am not burning my calories, then I really need to watch my intake calories. I also chose to watch my sodium because with my heart already beating fast, I could slow it down by not exceeding and sometimes staying below the recommended daily sodium intake. Sodium makes your heart work harder and when you have high blood pressure, that can’t be good right? I suggest people always watch the saturated fats. This is the bad fat you hear medical professionals like cardiologists say leads to high cholesterol and heart and lung disease. By watching my saturated fats and exercising daily, I am also loosing weight because I am not taking in the saturated fats as I was before.

So, it’s now 30 days later, and I just left my follow up appointment at the doctors. I now weight at 238 pounds which means I have lost 7 pounds in 30 days and guess what else? My lungs sounds much better. So that’s proof that the small lifestyle changes we make come with benefits. My next appointment is in 30 days to check up on the high blood pressure which I have managed to bring down almost 50%. I am hoping to lose another 7 pounds which would bring my weigh down to 231.

I know this is my early stages of health improvements, and I know I got a long ways to go to really see some serious results, but one way or the other I’ll get there. I’ll have a video mini-series and several more health articles coming in the next few weeks so I hope you tune in to keep up to date on my progress.

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