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New Ulm Medical Center

Chuck Hanson: The Take Five Community Health Challenge was just the ticket

At the beginning of 2011, The Heart of New Ulm Project launched the Take Five Community Health Challenge, a yearlong challenge focused on five key behaviors that target weight management. The challenge encouraged everyone to: 1) Set a goal to lose five pounds, 2) Be physically active five days a week, 3) Eat five times a day, 4) Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and 5) Take five minutes for themselves each day.

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Five mornings a week at the New Ulm Recreation Center is now the new normal for Chuck Hanson, who lost 80 pounds with a little motivation and the help of the Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project.

For New Ulm resident Chuck Hanson, 43, the challenge turned out to be just the ticket he needed to start making some healthy changes. Back in 2009, Chuck had participated in a free heart health screening offered at his worksite, the New Ulm-based law firm of Gislason and Hunter, but he simply wasn’t motivated at that time to do anything about his expanding waistline. However, after talking with his doctor about a year-and-a-half later, he knew it was time to act.

“Just hearing the word ‘obese’ from my doctor is what pretty much did it,” said Chuck. “I am 6 feet tall, and I was right at 250 pounds. The thought of losing all the weight was just so daunting, but I thought, well, if I’m going to do something, I have to get it done now. The doctor also mentioned that my blood pressure was high and I thought, ‘wow.’ I’d always been told that I had really good blood pressure. I knew that news was another reason to really look at doing something about my weight.”

The Take Five challenge booklet contained key action steps for 12 weeks, along with log pages to track both eating and physical activity on a daily basis. Chuck started tracking his daily eating in February 2011 and also started going to Vogel (Recreation Center), with a goal of getting there at least three to four times a week.

After six months of hard work, Chuck lost an impressive 83 pounds. Now weighing in at his goal weight of 167, he’s striving to maintain it. As a result of his new healthy habits, his blood pressure is back to normal as well.

Tracking was an eye-opener

An assistant county attorney for Watonwan County, Chuck attributes his success to the combination of several proven weight loss strategies: 1) tracking his progress, 2) adding breakfast, 3) eating more fruits and vegetables, 4) watching his calories, 5) exercising regularly, and 6) weighing himself regularly.

“In the past, I definitely tried to find that easy fix,” Chuck admitted. “I did the Atkins Diet for awhile and this and that, but it’s like they say – it’s as simple as watching what you eat and exercising. I think that’s what was really the key for me — realizing that it wasn’t going to be that easy road.”

When Chuck started using the Take Five booklet to track his eating habits, his biggest eye openers were that he wasn’t eating anywhere near enough fruits and vegetables, but was getting way too many calories.

“A typical lunch for me back then would be a couple of frozen burritos,” he explained. “I really wasn’t eating fruits and vegetables at all, other than perhaps a casserole with corn in it or something for supper. That was about the extent of it. I was also amazed at the amount of calories I was eating. When you’re talking 500 calories in one burrito, I would easily be eating 1,000 calories for lunch alone and probably double that for supper.”

It also didn’t help that his desk drawer at work was filled with high-calorie snacks like bags of cookies to snack on throughout the day. The calories were adding up quickly — way more than the recommended amount of 2,200 to 2,400 calories for a man of his age with a sedentary lifestyle.

Today, Chuck’s snack drawer is pretty much gone, and a healthy breakfast starts out his day. Before, Chuck would just run out the door without eating anything for breakfast. Now, he’ll have a glass of V8 and some toast before he leaves, followed by a banana at the office around 9 or 9:30. His usual bag lunch includes an apple, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat, carrots and another fruit or vegetable, such as pickled beets, pears or blueberries.

Removing the barriers to exercise

Committing to a regular exercise routine has also been key, and Chuck overcame a variety of barriers to make it work. From both a mental and physical perspective, Chuck was apprehensive about starting to exercise. He’d had knee surgery in 2003, and although his knee was now stronger, it would still “buckle” every now and then.

Although he used to enjoy running when he was in the Air Force, he said, “Especially when I was 250, I wouldn’t have even tried to run around the block because my knee would’ve buckled. I was really kind of leery about working out more. I think I probably used the fear of doing something to my knee as an excuse not to work out or get exercise.”

Once he started working out on the elliptical at Vogel, however, he was pleasantly surprised at how it didn’t bother his knee — and how exercise and weight loss actually improved it. He even ran a Hermann 5K race with his wife, Kim, and said he now has “absolutely no issues whatsoever” with the knee. His usual routine is to go six miles on the elliptical, which takes about a half hour, and then head into the weight room for some upper-body strengthening exercise.

A native of New Ulm, Kim was also looking to lose some weight and to exercise more, so their support of each other was also invaluable. Kim really enjoys running the track and has become committed to running. She’s participated in numerous 5K races and a 10K and is ready to start training for a half marathon with her brother.

Time is often one of the biggest barriers for people looking to be more active, and Chuck and Kim were no exception. With an 11-year-old son, Jake, and a 7-year-old daughter Brooke, busy work schedules, volunteer basketball coaching duties and more, they initially found working out to be a bit of a juggling act.

When Chuck first started, he would head right to Vogel after his half-hour drive from work in St. James, but that meant he didn’t get home until about 6:30 p.m. — even later in the winter when drive times can be longer. Meanwhile, Kim was working out in the mornings, and so she soon suggested using a tag-team approach where they would both work out in the morning.

Now, Kim heads to Vogel first at about 5 a.m.; when she gets home at about 5:45, Chuck heads out. They both go five days a week and also occasionally go on weekends and take the kids swimming.

“I really like this schedule; it’s helped me out a lot,” said Chuck. “I now have my whole evening with the family and we can go out and do whatever we want to do. And we both have so much more energy throughout the day.”

The “old Chuck” is back

With his weight under control, Chuck has found his stress level also seems to be in better control, too. “Now that I’m with the county attorney’s office, I do a lot of prosecution … that’s all I do. So it seems like it would be more intense (than his former law firm job), and it is in a way, but for some reason it’s just more relaxing for me. I’m in court every day, but now that I have lost the weight, work does not stress me out at all.”

He added, “Even around the house, Kim has said it’s nice to have the ‘old Chuck’ back. I think a lot of it is, when I was that heavy, I obviously wasn’t too happy with myself.”

As for what Chuck would share with other people looking to lose weight, he said, “Don’t be daunted by it. Just get started; I think that’s the hardest thing. Just put your mind to it. That’s where the Take 5 book really helped me out. It had the weekly goals, and I was doing those. I followed through and was writing everything down. I had a huge amount of weight to look at facing me, but the tracking helped me get it done. It’s just amazing. I promised myself and Kim and the family that I would never go back to that weight again. So for anyone else, I would just reinforce that it can be done. Six months seems like a long time, but when the weight starts dropping off, it’s just amazing to watch it drop off. You feel so good about yourself.”