Chasing a seemingly elusive goal.
By David Droschak
Banner photo by Joe Reale
Rebecca Hale reached a milestone of sorts in January. It marked the fourth straight year in which she had gone without taking a prescription or over-the-counter drug.
What may seem like a modest accomplishment to some is a big deal to Hale, who was plagued with chronic digestive issues, terrible sinus infections, horrible acne, and weight problems. By the age of 21, she was ingesting five prescription drugs a day as her health was in decline.
“I had this wake-up moment, thinking that if I felt this horrible at 21, what is going to happen when I am 40 or 50?” she says. “So, I started to look into natural alternatives. I was closed-minded to it at the time, but it worked. Then I became really passionate about it, going back to school for it, and here I am.”
Now 28, Hale ditched her accounting degree from the University of Maryland and enrolled online at the New Eden School of Natural Health & Herbal Studies, and now owns Natural Health Strategies in North Raleigh.
“It was a total 180-degree switch for me,” Hale says of her career change and overall health outlook. “If you commit to it and stay consistent with it, it works and it’s awesome.”
Experts on fitness, our surrounding environment, nutrition, and stress all agree that commitment and consistency are the two main variables and themes when it comes to trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle in one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas.
Health often plummets down the list of importance behind such items as family, work, and overall indulgence. The excuses of why we can’t stay in shape or maintain a stress-free lifestyle are endless—ranging from “the gym is too far from my house” to reading emails after dinner so you won’t have to “play catch up” in the morning.
“My buddy out in California and I have a saying: ‘You need to be fit enough to be able to do everything that you HAVE to do in life, most of the things you WANT to do … and then have a little left over in reserve,” says Jason Culbreth, a renowned trainer at Forged Fitness of Cary. “Fitness is a lifetime thing; it’s like eating an elephant, you have to do a little bit every day and the compounding result in the end is tremendous.”
Culbreth, 50, was ahead of the game when it came to crossfit training in the Triangle area, opening up one of the first such facilities in the nation.
The crossfit training craze has now exploded here. Forged Fitness is just one of three such locations within a mile of each other on Northwest Maynard in Cary.
Crossfit can best be described as high intensity exercise and functional fitness.
“When you get done with a workout at the end of the day, you should feel better about yourself and your body should feel better than when you went into the place,” Culbreth says. “The idea and the concept about running yourself into the ground day-in and day-out is not health, and it’s not fitness. If you think about life as a continuum, we’re all going to be healthy into our 40s, you pretty much can do what you want to do. But what happens between 40 and 85? Well, everything you do prior to 40 is going to affect how you live your life from 40 to 85. That’s when you actually need to be fit. That’s when things start breaking down.”
Beyond the time commitment, there’s the dollar investment. Crossfit training can start at $140 a month for personalized attention and workout regiments, while some “regular” gyms are as inexpensive as $10 per month. But that’s where the commitment and consistency comes into play again.
“I am proud of so many of my clients because I really have changed people’s lives,” Culbreth says. “I give them a reason to come back—whether it’s the people they see, the quality of training they are receiving, or [simply] they went online and found an accountability program to sign up for. You need to have somebody like me care enough that when you don’t show up to the gym I give you call and say, ‘Where you at?’”
LIVING WELL IN A BUSY WORLD
Where you are at—i.e. your environment—can also affect your health.
Well, Dr. Aaron Hipp, an associate professor of community health and sustainability at N.C. State University, has done extensive research on how your surroundings influence certain health-related decisions, like taking an elevator instead of stairs, or making use of the connection of greenways.
“Smart phones are an interesting part of the health equation because we are no longer bored,” Hipp explains. “At work, I have the option of taking the elevator or the stairs up to the fifth floor. Often times I choose the elevator—so I can check my email or social media for those 90 seconds waiting in the elevator, going up the elevator, and getting off the elevator—instead of walking up the stairs. I could be walking and getting some exercise and get there just as quick.”
Hipp says his environment on the Raleigh campus (Jordan Hall, which was designed in the 1990s) is not conducive to hiking up the stairs.
“The stairwell is kind of hidden; it is meant more for emergencies—to get out of the building—instead of designed to be taken,” he says. “It’s freezing now, and hot in the summer. It is just concrete and cinder blocks; there is nothing interesting about it that would make you want to take the stairs, where the elevators are front and center right by the door. You walk in the door and see two or three people there and, even if you aren’t going to speak to them, there is a social aspect of standing there.”
The unintended consequence is less exercise because of the environment you are placed in, Hipp says. He is part of an ongoing study that took place in New York City this summer and will be extended to Raleigh in 2018. The study examines patterns of playground activity for children ages five to 10.
“There is a great environment here [in the Triangle]; there are a lot of opportunities for recreational and leisure activities,” Hipp notes. “The greenway systems in Cary and in Raleigh are really great for leisure. The same with parks—there is nice diversity in size and in location, and amenities, so there are good places to play for sure. But the unintentional activities, like walking and biking, or running errands or transportation, getting from Point A to Point B, or getting to those play sites, [options for those activities are] still pretty lacking in the area.”
Add the degree of stress in daily lives to the health equation and it complicates things tenfold.
Clark Souers, the owner of Expert Effect, a California-based firm that specializes in stress resiliency for high performers, plans to open an office in Raleigh sometime this year. Our area is regarded by Souers as one “filled with people at the top of their game in life.”
“Their dreams are coming true, they have the family they have always wanted, they have a job that they are proud of, but they are going to have more on their plate because they have numerous roles of responsibility,” he says. “We want to help them become more resilient to stress so they will perform better and lead lives that have more happiness.”
Souers explains that people “stress out” for a variety of reasons.
“A lot of times it is feeling like you cannot adequately deal with your circumstances,” he says. “Our bodies tend to go into a stress mode when it feels that it is in danger, so all the stress hormones kick in and you can’t adequately deal with situations. It will impact your immune system; it will impact people’s ability to emotionally deal with things, so it impacts their relationships. It can also produce small things like headaches or feeling overly tired, but it can progress into serious illnesses because your system is not functioning properly.”
Souers recently went on a vacation to Mexico and unplugged. He didn’t check his cell phone or email once. And he suggests others follow suit on a more regular basis.
“I find that the reason people don’t unplug is either addiction or fear,” he says. “It can be the fear of not knowing what’s going on. Or fear of emptiness, that if you are not connected to Facebook or work you will feel empty and lose your identity. And checking your phone triggers endorphins, so it can be an addiction. People need to break the addiction or address the fears.”
When the road to health seems blocked for some, an unconventional method may not be so unconventional, says Hale, the expert nutritionist.
“Most people don’t even know [natural health supplements] exist, so I can’t really blame them for coming to me late in the game,” Hale says. “It’s an education hurdle I have to overcome, getting people to realize there is a whole other option they can try. People come in for digestive disorders, or migraines, or low energy. They have been to the doctor and all of their blood work says they are fine, and they say ‘but I don’t feel fine.’”
Hale recently treated a woman in her 40s who suddenly was stricken with a “mad itch” that was so irritating it kept her awake at night.
“A doctor offered a few prescriptions, but she read the side effects—some scary things—and said she would rather try this,” Hale adds. “And within two appointments we got the itch to go away. It was a combination of simple diet changes and some supplements and herbs. She had been going to the doctor for six months, and in a matter of three weeks we were able to get her fixed.”
Stand-Up to Sedentary Lifestyles
A lot of jobs have so-called “required activity.” Others—like what N.C. State professor Dr. Aaron Hipp faces most days—require sitting for long periods of time, or an hour standing at a podium.
But Hipp argues that’s not the way it has to be. The associate professor of community health and sustainability is a big fan of his standing desk at work, which he uses at least three times a day. “It just breaks things up,” Hipp says.
And there are plenty of other benefits to your long-term health.
“When I worked in a back office we used to sit all day, and you do get back pain or poor circulation in your legs,” says Debbie Scara, who sells the standing desks at OfficeMax in Apex (a subsidiary of Office Depot).
Scara says OfficeMax began selling two different versions of the standing desks—a manual and an electronic—less than a year ago. She estimates she has sold around 50 in the last six months, including 20 to the owner of one small local firm. The costs range from $399 to $499 each.
“When they go on sale we move quite a bit of them,” she says. The electronic version comes equipped with built-in USB ports and other electronic connections.
Hipp says the standing desks are well worth the investment for businesses, helping increase productivity among the staff.
“I was hired in 2015 at N.C. State, and I am positive every hire in our department since me has gotten a standing desk, and every hire prior to me did not get a standing desk,” Hipp says. “I stand three times a day—right when I walk in, because I email first thing so I don’t have to put a lot of thought into it. And my desk is already up, because I end my day standing. Those are email times.”
There is a method to Hipp’s daily standing routine. “I have just sat in the car getting to work and I’m about to sit in a car going home, so it feels good to stand at the beginning of my work day and at the end of my work day,” he says. “I also stand post lunch; you know, the sleepy time, just to break it up.” He also notes that conference calls are a great time to stand and not sit at a table.