Joe Pistcatella knows his stuff.
Beginning in March and running for six weeks, his program in Gig Harbor, “6 Weeks to a Healthier You,” guided 120 participants on a road to a healthier lifestyle, adding years to their lives.
The Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce joined forces with the city of Gig Harbor, CHI Franciscan Health, Anytime Fitness, PenMet Parks, Metropolitan Market and others to present the program, which took place at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church.
Class participants started to see results three to four weeks into the program.
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“They could see the results in not just weight — which is great, it is an indicator for everyone — but they were reporting that their vegetable consumption was up and meat consumption was down. Our job was really to teach it and motivate them to keep doing what they were doing,” Pistcatella said.
Group members bonded and supported one another, increasing their exercise minutes and cheering each other on as the weight dropped and they were able to reduce their prescription drug intake.
A sense of discipline comes from the repetition of diet and exercise, and class members encouraged each other on during the six-week program, Pistcatella said.
“Whether it is measuring your food or making sure you are walking at least every other day, it is helpful to be part of a group because if the group is doing it and you are all headed in the same direction, there is the motivation piece,” he said.
Pistcatella is a big fan of motivation.
“Living healthy in our culture is very difficult. From a food standpoint it looks more like a Super Bowl party than a vegan convention,” he said.
Adding that we are a sedentary culture, Pistcatella tossed out the statistic that the U.S. ranks 169th in health rankings for the world.
“We are right between Croatia and Guam,” he said.
Local businesses encouraged their employees to join the program because they recognized that at $59, it was a very inexpensive wellness program.
The program also benefited participating businesses.
“They wanted their people to get healthier because they care about them, and because health care, after salaries, is the biggest cost they face,” said Pistcatella.
Class participant Mitch Anderson said the program changed his life.
With a total weight loss of 54 pounds, Anderson’s doctor told him it had added five years to his life.
“The timing for it was really good,” he said. “I had decided right around Christmas that I was going to lose some weight and when I got my base numbers numbers, blood pressure and others, I found I had off-the-chart blood pressure.”
A follow-up with his doctor confirmed that Anderson, in addition to having high blood pressure numbers, was stage 2 Hypertension.
“I had to drop some weight,” he said.
The six-week program taught Anderson how to read ingredient labels on food, how and what to eat, how to minimize his portion sizes, and he even started a walking program.
“I quit eating garbage and learned about portion control. I quit eating cereal for breakfast and switched to oatmeal and started to walk three miles a day,” Anderson said.
The class was a mix of half men and half women, most of them age 50 and older.
“We had some younger people too but this class was nice because a lot of times we get 90 women and 10 men because women are much more interested in health than men, but this was well balanced,” said Piscatella.
Warren Zimmerman, president and CEO of the Gig Harbor Chamber, said the chamber’s mission in sponsoring the program was to try to support the community.
“Most people think of us as strictly being involved in business, so this was an attempt on our part to let people know we do a lot of other things in the community that go unnoticed,” Zimmerman said.
The chamber is looking at the Healthy Harbor program as a three-year program that could run again in 2018 and 2019.
“If you do three consecutive years of the program, the reach gets much greater,” he said.
Overall class results were impressive.
Group results showed weight dropped by 11 pounds and BMI results went from 29 (just short of obese) to 25.5. Blood pressure dropped a whopping 124/77 to 112/68, and days of exercise jumped from 2.4 to 4.2 with minutes engaged in exercising up from 31 to 54.5.
“It is not easy to get to the point where you are getting traction from ‘I don’t have time to exercise’ to ‘I make time for exercise.’ You have to commit to doing the right thing and then you will see the results,” Pistcatella said.
Anderson said the timing of the class couldn’t have been better.
“I would go to his class and I couldn’t wait for the next one,” he said.
Piscatella never gets tired of delivering the same messages.
“I still get excited about it,” he said. “This may be the 100th time I have delivered that session, but it is the first time they have seen it, and you know that if you do a good job and people get turned on by the information and make the changes and sustain the challenges, they will have a good outcome.”
Piscatella told the class that the challenge now is to sustain their new, healthier habits.
“Take it one day at a time. I know you can do it!” he said.