|The bases are loaded, and the batter is up. The stakes
are high. Spectators perch on the edge of their seats
in anticipation of the next move.
Will it be a strike or a hit?
When it comes to staying healthy, you need
to knock one out of the park. If you play by the
rules and master the techniques, scoring a run
for the home team is a sure bet.
This story is about health. Men’s health
to be exact. But if you are member of the
fairer sex—a woman, that is—don’t just scan
through this story. Read it. Carefully.
Although the facts target males, you are a
key player on the team.
Staying healthy isn’t hard, but it takes effort.
According to Darrell Simpkins, M.D., an
emergency physician and medical director of
the FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness,
taking charge of one’s health is a matter of
answering one simple question.
“When I speak to groups or talk with
patients, I start with a question,” he says.
“’How old do you want to be when you die?’
Certainly, there are unexpected medical crises,
but, for the most part, we are in control of our
own health and safety. If you want to live a
long life, you have to take care of yourself. It’s
actually a pretty simple strategy.”
Exercise: the right way
“If you do too much too soon, you can hurt
yourself rather than improving your health,”
says Randy Ballard, coordinator of the Lifestyle
Enhancement Center at the FirstHealth
Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst. “Men
today lead busy lives, and when they decide
to begin an exercise program, they attempt it
with intensity and purpose.”
An effective exercise program should consider
each individual’s current health status and level
of fitness. “You can achieve more success if you
start out slowly and pace yourself,” says Ballard.
Fitness centers and health clubs often offer
assessments to help members set up a custom
exercise program. At FirstHealth, assessments
include not only height, weight and body mass
index evaluations, but also health tests for
blood pressure, strength and lung function.
“We talk about goals and try to find exercise
options that will enable men to get in shape,
but we also try to match them with activity
that they will enjoy,” says Kim Covington, a
FirstHealth exercise physiologist and manager
of the Centers for Health & Fitness in Raeford
“I have noticed that our male clients often
prefer strength-building activities over cardio.
The best fitness regimens always include
Ideally, men should strive to engage in some
sort of strength training two to three times
each week in addition to cardio activity for
20 minutes to an hour three to five times per
Joining a fitness center or health club is
an excellent option, but it isn’t necessary to
achieve good health. Walking, running, swimming,
bicycling, skating, playing golf, or using
appropriate home equipment can also be effective.
For men who are struggling to juggle the
demands of careers and families, or for those
who have never worked at fitness, finding the
time for exercise may not be a priority. Still,
the benefits are well documented.
Active people have fewer health problems,
and regular activity may even prevent the
onset of chronic illnesses such as high blood
pressure and diabetes. Fitness also deters certain
forms of cancer.
Regular activity improves heart health,
increases circulation and positively impacts
the vascular system. It reduces stress and influences
positive mental health. Exercise can even
positively affect your sex life.
The advantages of maintaining your body
are not even limited to the present. Being fit
can actually reduce the likelihood of future
“By increasing flexibility and strength, men
who are fit can avoid muscle strains and lower
back problems,” says Covington. “But you
can’t get there in a day. It takes time.”
When you take the time to invest in your
health, however, you can reap amazing dividends.
“No one can have less time than a doctor,”
says Dr. Simpkins. “Staying active doesn’t
mean losing more time. In fact, the gains are
phenomenal. And, remember, you aren’t just
doing it for yourself: You’re setting an example
for the people around you.”
A balancing act
Staying healthy is about much more than
something you do. Instead, it is who you are.
Everyone knows that eating well and getting exercise are important,
but achieving good health actually involves a balanced variety
of lifestyle choices. Getting a good night’s rest, relaxing after a
stressful day at work, participating in an enjoyable hobby and
building strong supportive relationships with friends and family are
essential parts of good health.
Personal safety is an equally critical, but often overlooked, aspect
of health and wellness. Although most men employ appropriate
safety measures at work, the practice is often neglected at home and
at play. Wearing sunscreen, fastening seatbelts and obeying traffic
laws are simple acts that save lives.
Men should also use the correct protective equipment in sports
and exercise. This may mean wearing a helmet, using knee or elbow
pads, and carefully inspecting gear to ensure safe play.
Attention to details in your home is also important. Smoke and
carbon monoxide detectors should be checked frequently to ensure
that batteries are strong and equipment is working properly.
Managing those nagging home maintenance lists factors into the
equation as well. Your living environment strongly impacts your
health. The presence of dust, mold, loose flooring, plumbing leaks
and over-stressed electrical outlets are just a few of the potential
hazards of a neglected home.
It’s not kid stuff
So, you watch what you eat, get plenty of exercise and play it
safe. You may still be forgetting one thing. Regular physical exams,
routine health screenings and detailed medical histories ensure that
you remain on top and in control. Checkups and immunizations aren’t just for kids. Unfortunately, many adults avoid the doctor’s
office until they are sick or injured.
There are recommended standards of care for adults in every age
category. Developing a relationship with a qualified health provider
will enable you to remain informed on the appropriate preventive
and screening care for your age group and risk category.
Don’t be afraid to talk with your immediate and extended family
members about their health. Knowing the specifics of any medical
issues they have encountered is an advantage in preparing for your
Although explorers have never discovered tangible evidence of a
fountain of youth, choosing a lifestyle that encourages physical and
mental fitness can add years to your life—and life to your years.
“I attended the Senior Games last summer,” says Dr. Simpkins.
“I was fascinated by the people competing. Some of the athletes are
80-plus. They are in better condition than many people who are
half their age. It really made me think.
“The activities you choose may change over time. Your body
will change, too, but you don’t have to lose any of your youthful
enthusiasm. There is nothing to hold you back. You can be active,
try new things and reach your fitness goals. It’s like teaching a
child to play baseball. You may not get it right the first time or
even the 27th, but if you keep working at it, eventually you’ll
knock one out of the park.”
For more information on the FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness,
call (800) 213-3284 toll-free.
|A real-life man of steel (iron)
“I started doing Iron Man competitions about two and half years ago,” says Paul Kuzma, M.D., an anesthesiologist with FirstHealth of the Carolinas. “I had been involved with triathlons for five years, and I was looking for a new challenge. This was a chance to advance to the next level.”
An Iron Man event, like a traditional triathlon, includes swimming, bicycling and running, but the distances are significantly greater. In fact, each race includes a 2.4-mile swim and 112 miles of cycling along with a 26-mile marathon completed back to back with no break.
After nine months of rigorous conditioning, Dr. Kuzma finished his last event in 13 hours and 19 minutes.
“I try to get to the gym by 5:30 a.m. every morning,” he says. “Exercising makes me feel energized and alert.” Although Dr. Kuzma admits the health benefits are tremendous, for him, staying physically fit involves much more.
“My life and my health are a gift,” he says. “I don’t want to take them for granted. I like to take advantage of every opportunity to push a little further and test my limits. It’s a mental and spiritual challenge as much as a physical one.
“There are a lot of people who are suffering from illness and would give anything to be able to go and do. Just to get outside or walk around the block would be exceptional for them. I know that I am fortunate to have my health and to be able to reach my physical goals.”
That’s why Dr. Kuzma dedicated his race last year as a fundraiser for the Moore Regional Hospital Foundation’s Cancer CARE Fund. “Knowing that my effort would make a difference for people fighting cancer in our community was a motivation to keep pushing forward,” he says.
Through the generous contributions of many members of the medical staff and local community, the event raised $17,000.
In the Kuzma household, fitness is a family affair. “We encourage the kids to get outside, ride their bikes and play hard,” Dr. Kuzma says. “They participate in team sports, and we are active as a family.”
Dr. Kuzma’s 8-year-old son even plans to do his first triathlon this summer.
According to Dr. Kuzma, anyone can achieve his (or her) desired level of fitness. It’s a matter of commitment. “I’m no different than anyone else,” he says.
“I struggle with my diet. I’m not a great athlete. I’m just average. My success is a story of willpower. Setting a goal and working hard to get there. Nothing more.”
Rising to the challenge
“I was a competitive athlete for years,” says Darrell Simpkins, M.D. “I played baseball and ran cross country in high school and in college. Fifteen years ago, I took up cycling. I get a sense of accomplishment when I exercise. I can’t imagine not being active.”
About 10 years ago, Dr. Simpkins was challenged to complete a triathlon. Never one to pass up a challenge, he agreed to pursue the goal.
“I have an image to uphold,” he laughs.
Triathlons include running, swimming and cycling. Dr. Simpkins successfully finished that first event and has continued to compete ever since—participating in a half dozen triathlons just last year. He encourages people to set goals for exercise.
“People who are just beginning a fitness regimen or who need a little incentive to stay active benefit from a goal,” he says. “They need to set it, reach for it and tell their friends and family about it. Competition, even if it’s just with yourself, is a healthy motivator. If you run or walk, look for opportunities like the fall FirstHealth Turkey Trot. It gives you an extra reason to go out and exercise regularly, and once you’ve done it, you get the T-shirt!”
Dr. Simpkins is also an advocate of family activity. Concerned about the growth of obesity in young people across the nation, he believes that parents and other adults are responsible for setting an example. “Everybody wants kids to be healthy,” he says. “Good health should be a family affair. Take a bike ride together. Get involved in recreational sports. Walk the dogs every afternoon. It’s a great way to just enjoy being together.
“My son ran his first race as a preschooler. The time didn’t matter. He participated with me, and he walked away with his own T-shirt. For a kid, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Last summer, Dr. Simpkins attended the North Carolina Senior Games. He admits it was inspirational. “Some of the athletes who were much older than I am finished their races with better times that I can achieve right now,” he says.
At 57, Simpkins is officially considered a senior adult. “Too often, men of all ages still try to act like they are 20,” he says. “It’s important to watch how aggressive you are. You have to realize where you are with your health and understand what you can do safely. From there the possibilities are endless.”