Heart Health is a Marathon for This Fitbit User, Not a Sprint

Just hours after undergoing surgery for abdominal hernias last year Dennis W., 68, asked his wife to bring something to the hospital for him: his Fitbit Flex. “I had worn it faithfully for almost three years,” Dennis recalls. “That day, I had the strength to walk only 202 steps while holding onto the hallway railing and pushing the IV pole that had a tangled web of wires, tubes and fluid bags.”

For the next five days, he challenged himself to walk more than the day before. “On the sixth and final full day in the hospital, I walked 7,981 steps.” Yep, Dennis walked almost 4 miles…in the halls of a hospital!

Staying on track was paramount for Dennis—he’d spent the last 13 years working hard to build a healthier lifestyle. After a heart health scare at age 55, he had decided it was time for a change. “I was a 6-foot-1-inch, 55-year-old with high blood pressure who weighed 230 pounds. That was 74 pounds more than when I met my wife, Kay, at the age of 19,” says Dennis.

His family history wasn’t encouraging: One grandfather died of a heart attack at age 54, the other of complications from atherosclerosis, and his mother survived a stroke at age 69. “I wanted to enjoy watching my son grow up, and I wanted to enjoy retirement with Kay. I had to make some big lifestyle changes, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

He tackled less-than-ideal eating habits not with a radical diet plan, but by eating smaller portions, more fruits and vegetables, and cutting way back on indulgences like pizza, burgers, fries, and ice cream. As for fitness, Dennis tried swimming and biking but didn’t fall in love with exercise until he started walking trails in a rural part of Milwaukee, WI, where he lives.

“There’s always a chance encounter with deer, wild turkeys, cranes, a coyote, or a grass snake; or hearing owls hooting, woodpeckers drilling, frogs croaking, or various birds singing. Sometimes, Kay joins me for a portion of these hikes. It all makes the experience so much more enjoyable.”

Today, Dennis is down 45 pounds from his highest weight back in 2004, has excellent blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and uses his new Fitbit Charge 2 to log a whole lot of miles, which he loves tracking down to the last step. Last year he walked 5,662,554 steps—about the distance from Wisconsin to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

“I realize success is different for each person. For me, the past 13 years have been a very long roller coaster ride of highs—weight loss, accomplishing activity goals—and lows like loss of motivation and weight gain,” says Dennis. “But long-term determination has been a key reason why I haven’t given up. I’m looking forward to still many challenges in the future.”

Dennis’s Advice for Others:

Set goals. This may go without saying, but incremental goals can help pull you along in your fitness journey, as well as give you milestones to (deservedly!) celebrate along the way. For the past three plus years the Fitbit trackers have been life changing and have helped me stay focused on remaining active more than anything else I have tried. I’m driven to reach a minimum goal of at least 10,000 steps daily, and I often challenge myself to exceed a certain goal for a day, a week, a month and even a year.” The most steps ever walked in one day? 61,201. In a week? More than 200,000!

Create a fitness tradition. Walking trails or the track at his gym not only keeps Dennis active, but also helps him train for larger challenges. “I’ve looked forward to participating in the Walk Wisconsin Marathon the first Saturday in June for years, and have completed it four times, and the half marathon twice,” says Dennis. “My ongoing challenge is hiking the Wisconsin Ice Age Trail of 1,100 miles. I have about 600 more miles to complete it.”

Make room for your favorite foods. To get healthier, Dennis cut way back on foods like pizza and ice cream, but he always makes room for his favorite treat: “The one craving I can’t seem to give up is chocolate. So, I have one chocolate chip cookie or one mini Dove chocolate per meal.” Mmm, sweet.

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