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Retired soldier says bad health behaviors taken toll

Sedona AZ (June 8, 2017)When Russell Henderson was a soldier, he didn’t worry that much about his weight and blood pressure. The retired first sergeant got plenty of exercise, and the military actively encouraged people to eat healthier. But after he retired in 2002, his eating habits slipped to unhealthy foods, and he didn’t get the exercise he used to. It’s taken a toll on his 66-year-old body.

“It catches up with you so quickly, and before you know it, you look in the mirror one day and say, ‘Oh no!’” he said with a chuckle.

Henderson labeled his bad behavior a “guy thing.” Now fighting high blood pressure brought on – and complicated – by weight gain, he’s using all the medical resources available in the Military Health System, as well as his own determination, to get fit again.

“I’ve cut back on eating the fatty foods,” said Henderson. “I’m trying to eat more vegetables. I drink a lot of water, and I’m going back to the gym, trying to exercise more.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men under age 65 are more likely to develop high blood pressure, although women’s rates catch up past 65. But sometimes the damage is already done, setting men up for more problems when they are older.

“In my experience and according to the Department of Health and Human Services, how men face health care and the challenges of aging is different from women,” said Lia Anderson, a public health clinical nurse specialist at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in suburban Washington, D.C. “Multiple factors such as economic status, societal pressures, and cultural influences contribute to how men approach their health care.”

Anderson said access to the Military Health System does help many men. In addition to providing excellent treatment options, it also offers a variety of preventive measures. Active-duty men already have mandatory physical fitness standards. Beyond medical benefits, retired beneficiaries have access to fitness centers, dietitians who guide patients toward heart-healthy recipes and teach better eating practices, and materials to help end tobacco use, available at the UCanQuit2.org website. There are also simple tricks Anderson tries to pass along to her patients.

Our whole goal is to learn as much as we can about our patients, develop a relationship with them and help them lead long, healthy lives. – Dr. Alexis Harrison, Salt Lake City VA pictured with Veteran Larry Kerr

“Someone might say, ‘I don’t like healthy foods.’ Well, they might if they prepare them a little differently, and I show them how to do that,” she said. Another tip is asking for a take home box when your meal is brought out at a restaurant, so those watching calories can set aside half the meal right away. “We’re trained not to waste food. But it’s a waste in our bodies.”

Anderson emphasized the importance of education so the benefits of healthy eating habits are seen as an incentive, not some form of punishment. Plus, men need to understand going to see their doctor is important.

“I see this with men more than women, that men don’t like to have their routine checkups,” she said. “They don’t like to show any vulnerability. But if you can treat something early and modify a behavior, you’re going to have a better outcome.”

Even minor modifications can make a big difference. “No matter how small of a change, even if it’s just 10 minutes of exercise a day, it’s worth the effort because it’s a start. Don’t feel the deck is stacked against you because of your gender,” said Anderson.

Henderson has experienced a major turnaround in attitude about his health thanks to a provider who made him keep his appointments, especially getting him to go see a dietitian. While he’s still working on dropping some pounds, Henderson said his blood pressure is well under control and he is committed to taking all of his prescribed medications to help him along the way. His 27-year-old granddaughter is also helping him reach his goals of losing weight to get back to running. Eventually, he even wants to run the Army 10-miler. And he doesn’t want to miss time with his family.

“I’ve got a new little granddaughter, and I want to see her and my other grandkids grow up a bit,” said Henderson, encouraging other men to be mindful of their health. “Get regular checkups, follow your doctor’s advice, and set goals.”

This SedonaEye.com article courtesy of the Military Health System Communications Office.

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