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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
A homerun for health By Erica Stacy
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 and Pembroke.

“I have noticed that our male clients often prefer strength-building activities over cardio. The best fitness regimens always include both.”

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 week.

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.

Why exercise?
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 injuries.

“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 own future.

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.”