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Senior Citizen's Guide to Detroit

Look for a "Brand New Us" at DAAA

At the Detroit Area Agency on Aging, our Human Resources department, Healthy Aging team and Benefits Committee are developing a staff wellness program, and several employees took the initiative last week to jumpstart the effort with "The Brand New You" campaign. Participating employees will meet each week to share healthy recipes and provide support and encouragement to one another.

Those interested in a weight loss challenge are contributing $5 per week for 13 weeks, and the individual who loses the most weight and body mass combined will win the pot. Twenty-five employees are betting $65 on being the grand-prize winner, and I'm one of them.

Weight wasn't a problem for me until I had a heart attack in 2003, in my late 50s. At the time, I weighed 260 pounds — more than I have ever since. The weight contributed to my heart problems, and doctors encouraged me to lose 15 pounds.  The first five pounds came off easily with low-fat meals and moderate exercise.

Since the heart attack, my weight has gone up and down, depending on diet, exercise, medication and stress. I know that the extra pounds around my mid-section can be particularly risky. While women often put on extra pounds in the hips, thighs and legs, men are much more likely to gain belly fat. For most men, the risk of heart disease and other diseases increases with a waist size over 40 inches.

Every year, millions of American's make a new set of New Year's resolutions, and many of the resolutions focus on healthier behaviors. Common resolutions are to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, and create a more balanced lifestyle. Even Oprah Winfrey started the year with "Best Life Week," an entire week of TV programming focused on what it takes to understand the relationship between emotional and physical health.

You don't have to be a regular viewer of The Oprah Show to know that Oprah, like many of us, has been on a weight loss rollercoaster for years. In 1988, she celebrated a 67-pound weight loss by wheeling a wagon full of fat onto the stage of her television show. When she met personal trainer Bob Greene in 1992, she weighed 237 pounds, her heaviest weight ever. The cover of the January 2005 O, The Oprah Magazine revealed a fit, firm, 160-pound Oprah. She was 50, and she seemed to have her health and weight under control.

In 2007, after her 53rd birthday, Oprah began to gain weight again as she dealt with emotional and medical issues. She had heart palpitations, some leg swelling, and trouble sleeping, but it took visits to several doctors before a thyroid problem was diagnosed. First, she considered this a fat sentence, thinking that she would always be heavy because her metabolism wasn't working. Later, she realized she was exhausted, not taking time for herself, and abusing food. "Too much work," she said. Not enough play. Not enough time to come down. Not enough time to really relax."

That's my story, too. When I'm eating properly and exercising regularly, I'm able to manage the regular stresses of my worklife. As soon as I slip, the stress wins, I'm careless with eating, and the pounds return. At 60, I know that I must achieve more balance to live a healthy, fulfilled life. I know, too, that it won't happen without a plan. The operative word here is PLAN – and it's important at every stage of our lives.

When it comes to our relationship with food, Oprah's coach, Bob Greene, says we must start with an honest look at ourselves. He suggests answering these five key questions:

Then, it's time to put ourselves on our own to-do list, changing our diet and starting to exercise. I believe it helps to make small, specific, positive changes in our lives that are actually achievable. And it helps to embrace these changes with the help of other people. I'm looking forward to the support from fellow co-workers, and I plan to announce my weight loss results in this column in April.

If you're not surrounded by individuals who can encourage you, look for a website that offers information and strategies to keep you on track. Or call the Detroit Area Agency on Aging for information and assistance on healthy aging programs for older adults.

When our agency's first weight loss challenge concludes 13 weeks from now, the greatest results may not come from the actual number of pounds lost. Instead, the greatest outcomes are likely to come from the commitments of staff members who adopt the lifelong habits that will contribute to living well and living long. As an employer, I can't ask for much more.

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