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Healthy living requires kicking bad habits

Sarah Frank has worked as a nursing assistant at Mercy Hospital since August, but the choices made by many of her stroke and diabetic patients already have made a lasting impression – particularly in the form of food brought in by family members. Huge, greasy sub sandwiches. Snicker’s bars and other chocolates. Cookies.

“I’ve seen those iced cappuccinos with all the whipped cream and chocolate syrup. And this is for people who just came out of surgery or had a massive stroke,” said Frank, 23, of Amherst. “I’m always blown away by people in the hospital that continue to feed bad habits. It’s the same when we have smokers. They’ll start to go stir crazy and a lot of them will check themselves out and just leave. I always think about trying not to get into these habits because once you’re in a habit, it’s so much harder to get out of them.

Frank, a Kenmore native, looks to become a registered nurse. She is halfway toward her associate’s degree. Meanwhile, she works part-time at Mercy, as well as Stretch Pilates and Fitness in Cheektowaga, where she tends to train clients who range in age from 40 to almost 80.

She has seen a variety of people successfully set and complete goals at the fitness center – a worthwhile story to share as we turn the calendar toward a new year and, for many of us, look to establish healthier standards in the new year.

For those still mulling a New Year’s Resolution, I wrote a cover story for last weekend’s WNY Refresh section on how to choose a workable, manageable goal. You can read it here.

Those in Western New York who look to read about some American Lung Association tips here and find three regional resources here.

Patients end up in hospitals for many reasons, including genetic-related diseases, injuries and routine surgery. But many of the patients Frank and those on her hospital wing see have preventable diseases.

Daily choices, and the resolve to improve one’s health – regardless of age – can lower the risks of chronic disease that might land you in that wing, Frank told me recently. Below are excerpts from our interview.

Q. How has what you’re learning in both places taught you how you’d like to live your life in later years?

I see people at Stretch who are super healthy. They take pride in how they care for themselves. It makes me feel good because Stretch is such a positive environment. You don’t have any miserable people walking in there. For the most part, even the older people, who I absolutely love, are still healthy. Even if they’re slow moving, if they have that appointment, they get up and get in, and that makes all the difference in the world to them. I have this checklist in my head of what I don’t want to do. That’s what the hospital teaches me, decisions I’m not going to make. I never want to be in that place where I’m so dependent on junk food. It makes you feel so bad. It takes away your energy. I never want to be in that position where I have no interest in eating anything healthy.

Q. What are some things you plan to continue to do as you get older?

When I get up, I pretty much have a schedule. I’m going to work at Stretch, then I’m going to run a couple of errands, then I’m going to take my puppy – my go-to workout buddy Wilson, a 9-month-old golden retriever – for a jog on the bike path or to the park. That’s a priority for me. Then I go to the hospital at night. Everybody says, “You can do it, you’re so young,” but I see my mom who’s going to be 50 and she’s doing the same thing. I think they key to a healthy life is to keep moving. If that means parking in the furthest parking spot at the grocery store – that’s how we were raised – or taking the stairs, whatever you can do to keep your body moving. Simple steps. I take barre classes, which I absolutely love. I make that appointment, just like people do at Stretch. If you make that appointment, you’re accountable to keep it. I try to stay on my feet, put good things in my body and drink a lot of water. It’s been working for me so far and I feel good.

Q. Have have things gone at Stretch?

It’s been such a life change for me. I started working at the front desk while I was finishing up the Jump Bunch (teaching fitness to preschoolers). ... I fell in love with the atmosphere there and (Stretch owner) Larrisa (Mychaskiw) encouraged me to get certified. I worked with all kinds of people a gained so much hands-on experience with every body being so different. Everyone was coming in for different things. Now I’m at a place where I’ve gravitated toward the older generation. I’ve started to realize how a lot of people want to feel good. Pilates is great for losing inches and toning, and looking good and feeling strong, but it’s also really good for people who want to keep their bodies healthy and maintain that lifestyle going into retirement or after retirement, and keep the muscles from atrophying.

Q. What would a typical Pilates session be like?

First, I would find out if they have any injuries or issues. A lot of people have bad backs, bad knees, knee replacements. I assess their bodies in terms of how they stand and carry themselves. From there, I put them on our reformers for resistance-based training. I ease them into a gentle, stretching, resistance workout to warm up the legs and the core. Based on what I can see they’re capable of doing, I can add a little bit more each time. Core is huge, especially for balance, so I’ll do certain abdominal exercises on the machine. From there, depending on how they do, we do a lot of stretching. I push them a bit. We work on posture and balance. I have my hands on them a lot, adjusting their bodies, correcting their position and focusing on technique. That’s going to really benefit them. And I almost always end on stretching their entire body.

Q. How much does a session cost and how long does it run?

We have half-hour stretch sessions and hourlong ones. It depends on if you buy a package. What’s really popular is our half-hour stretches, with a little bit of exercise incorporated but it’s mostly stretching and strengthening. That is $350 for 10 classes or $40 per class.

Q. How did Pilates help interest your in nursing?

When I first started, I realized how physical it is for a trainer to be constantly adjusting and fixing and moving people around. Your hands are on them all the time. I started to feel people’s bodies and was amazed by how different everyone’s body is and how you can feel it when somebody feels relief in their muscles. I have clients of all ages but just gravitated toward these (older) people who just wanted to feel good. In having conversations with them, they started sharing so much wisdom with me. I realized that I could be a very good caregiver and nursing’s all about making people feel good, keeping people comfortable and catering to their needs. Having worked at Stretch, I feel like I can walk into the hospital now and deal with any person of any age or background. Between the two jobs, I’m discovering that I can read people and read their bodies.

Q. What have you learned since August from your hospital job?

The importance of being able to read people, think on your feet and adjust how you talk to people based on the kind of person they are. I’m that girl where, if they can’t get somebody to eat at the hospital, they bring me in and they’ll be eating soon. I’ve learned that there are so many different people in the world. Everything I’ve learned, healthwise, I’ve learned about the human body and it expanded my mind, and I can bring things back to Stretch. When I see things in the hospital, it helps make more sense at the studio with what people are coming in with.

I see more and more people that don’t take care of themselves. I see the results of that in the hospital, whether they’re young or old. It’s incredible. There are people in their 50s and they’re very, very sick because they never took care of themselves. It’s opened my eyes. The hospital is pretty much the result of what I’m trying to get people to not do at Stretch. I see the outcome of what it looks like if you don’t care of yourself, when you don’t get up and exercise, when you don’t eat right. I see it every day. The obesity. The diabetes. People that can’t put weight on their feet anymore because their knees are shot.

I go back to the studio and it’s like a 180.

Q. What is the take home message to people at Stretch based on some of the things you’ve seen at the hospital?

I tell them I see the results of people that never took the time. I tell them that if they invest in themselves now, they’re going to spend a lot less money than if they don’t. The hospital bills and people trying to keep up later in life when they’re in rough shape is impossible. The medications people are on, a lot of them wouldn’t need to be on if they’d just take the proper measures for themselves. I tell them invest in your health. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. If you can’t get up and take care of yourself, what are you going to do?

Q. Do you share some of the pearls of wisdom from the hospital?

A lot of people see me zipping around the room. I’m like a whirlwind, because you have to be. Sometimes I have 15 patients. They see me and say, “Oh my gosh, I wish I could be like that. I wish I wouldn’t have been so sedentary.” You have to keep moving – even if it’s just sitting up in a chair or wiggling your toes and fingers.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon