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Get Healthy at the Good Life Center - 09/04/2007

Bill Harkness believes that without the Good Life Center, he probably wouldn’t have a life at all. “No doubt, I’d be pushing up daisies,” says the 75-year-old Southington resident who, like clockwork, arrives at The Hospital of Central Connecticut’s Cohen Good Life Center at 8:45 a.m. each weekday to work out with the help of exercise physiologists and other medical experts. Like many of those rowing, walking and lifting in the busy gym, Harkness knows he needs to exercise to keep both his diabetes and congestive heart failure in check.

Following a program prescribed by Good Life clinicians — rather than exercising alone at home or at a commercial gym — assures him not just a great workout, he says, but a safe one. Registered nurses and physician assistants are among the clinicians who monitor and guide program participants throughout their daily routines. “It’s also a fun place, right Bill?” jokes exercise physiologist Jim Pugliese, who oversees the gym and knows pretty much every participant by name. “We like to laugh a lot, so coming to the Good Life Center is also about having a good time — though making the most of each day is really what we all should do.” Essential to living a good life is overall good health, says Pugliese, who’s worked at the Good Life Center crafting individualized exercise plans, and monitoring participants’ performances, for more than10 years. “For a quality life, you need to be as strong and active as possible,” he adds, “and unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen. You need to work at it.”

Get physical every day
Most people have heard the basic recommendations for good health:
• Don’t smoke.
• Lose weight.
• Wear sunscreen. (An SPF of 30 or higher.)
• Limit the caffeine and alcohol.
• Get a good night’s sleep. (Six to eight hours is the standard guideline.)
• Remember to schedule regular preventive exams.
• Take a daily multivitamin.
• Keep stress to a minimum.
• Eat nutritious meals.
• Exercise every day.

They’re all important guidelines that each person should do his or her best to follow each day, says Good Life Center Director Dino Costanzo. But the three he tends to stress most, he says, are not smoking, eating well and exercising regularly. “Smoking, you never do. It’s that simple. The other two, you always do — or at least make your best effort,” says Costanzo who, as The Hospital of Central Connecticut’s director of Health Promotion, oversees wellness programs at both its New Britain and Southington campuses. “Really, there’s nothing better than exercise,” Costanzo says. “It has the power to help reduce your risk of developing diseases like heart disease and some cancers. It can help you stay trim. It can help you not just live longer, but have a better quality of life. The American College of Sports Medicine’s current slogan is ‘Exercise is medicine.’ Every person needs to start looking at exercise this way.” For most people, doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — rapid walking, bicycling or jogging, as examples — four days a week, though every day is ideal, Costanzo says. Strength training through simple weight-lifting exercises like dumbbells, or calisthenics like pushups, help improve flexibility, strengthen muscles and, most importantly, prevent muscle loss. Never, however, begin an exercise program without first speaking with your physician. “Too many people today are overweight and inactive, and that’s a real health risk,” Costanzo laments. “We need to turn things around so that regular activity becomes the new trend.”

Retired New Britain firefighter Robert McCrann of Berlin admits to not always being the most faithful exerciser. But he makes a “real effort,” he says, to get to the Good Life Center to walk the treadmill, lift free weights and use strength training machines at least three days each week. “I lose my stamina when I don’t exercise,” says McCrann, 64, who suffered a heart attack in October 2004. “Absolutely, exercise helps me live the good life.”

The importance of color
A healthy diet — even one started later in life — is the other key to the good life, says Good Life Center Nutrition and Weight Management Coordinator May Harter, R.D. Like many health experts, she regularly reminds people about the importance of eating a diet low in fat, calories and red meats, and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But she also offers one additional piece of eating advice: Be colorful. Add colorful fruits and vegetables to every meal, she says, with the goal of eating five or more servings a day. Deeply-hued produce are generally full of a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients needed to maintain good health and energy levels; protect against the effects of aging; and help reduce the risks of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

For example, says Harter, blue and purple produce like blackberries, plums, eggplant and purple peppers are rich in phytochemicals — natural plant compounds believed to help lower the risk of some cancers, promote urinary tract health, improve memory function and help prevent signs of aging. Most green fruits and vegetables like broccoli, peas, green apples, green grapes, artichokes and kiwi contain high levels of antioxidants, plant substances that help protect the body by neutralizing free radicals, or unstable oxygen molecules, that can damage cells and lead to poor health. They’re also believed to help lower the risk of some cancers, improve vision and promote strong bones and teeth. High levels of Vitamin C, among other nutrients found in yellow and orange produce, can help promote a healthy immune system. The phytochemical lycopene that’s plentiful in tomatoes, strawberries, radishes and other red fruits and vegetables has also been touted for improving heart function. “People say ‘How can I eat so many fruits and vegetables? How can I do this every day?’ I say, ‘Start slowly.’ Add one or two fruits to every meal. Start by putting fruit on your cereal in the morning and having a salad with lunch. It’s very doable once you get used to it,” Harter explains, “and the benefits become clear pretty quickly: better mood, high energy level and less fatigue among them.”

Harkness says he’s proof that advice from Good Life Center experts work: “I’m still here, despite serious heart problems, high blood pressure and complications from my diabetes. I see the same people pretty much every morning, and we’ve become friendly — misery loves company, I guess. “No, seriously,” he continues. “We have a good time here. They teach you how to live healthy. So how could it not be a great place?”

General information:
The Good Life Center is open:
• 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday
• 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday
A doctor’s referral is needed for all who participate. For those needing supervised exercise to recover from heart attack, joint replacement or other medical condition, monthly membership is typically covered by health insurance.

General membership is available for $60 a month. A 20 percent discount is given those 55 and older, or those who belong to the hospital’s Alliance Advantage program. Call the Cohen Good Life Center at (860) 224-5433 for details. The Center is located on the third floor of the hospital’s New Britain General campus.

Couple’s Gift Keeps on Giving
Grateful for the diet and exercise programs that help keep his diabetes under control, Elliot Cohen took steps to assure others would have the ability to live healthier lives, too.

In 2003, he says, he was ready to make a “sizeable contribution” as thanks for the great care he, family members and others in the community have received from The Hospital of Central Connecticut. He asked that a hunk of the donation be earmarked for the Good Life Center. In return for this generosity, hospital officials renamed the fitness facility The Elliot & Marsha Cohen Good Life Center. But Cohen, 73, says neither he nor his wife Marsha, 67, are as interested in seeing their names in brass letters as they are in keeping fit. The pair comes to the center at least three days a week to walk the treadmill, lift free weights and use the strength training machines. “I’m one of those people who needs to get to a gym to exercise,” says the Kensington resident. “If I had to do it at home, I wouldn’t. The Good Life Center designed the program that would be best for me, and I follow it. The result is that my diabetes and sugar levels are totally under control.”

Like others who use the center, the Cohens have also enjoyed the healthy recipes Good Life Center staff tack to a community bulletin board along with seasonal wellness advice. Exercise physiologist Jim Pugliese says he often sees people mill around this health tips board—and is always gratified to see the interest. With stress management, yoga and tai chi offered along with its signature supervised exercise program, the Cohen Good Life Center’s goal is to improve overall health, Pugliese says. That’s why in addition to fitness counseling, participants with special health concerns like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are offered regular blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose tests. For joint replacement patients, there’s both the physical and emotional support needed for a safe and healthy rehabilitation. Preventive services include bone density tests and nutrition counseling. And because the Good Life Center is hospital-based, other needed health services are often just steps away.

“The friendships I’ve made here have really meant a lot to me, too,” says 71-year-old Joan Bruni, while rowing and working her upper arms. A New Britain resident, Bruni recently marked her 10th year coming to the center. The first 12 weeks she spent there, in 1997, were under doctor’s orders to help recover from a heart attack. Each week since then, however, has been for her own wellness and peace of mind—which she loses, she says, when she misses workout sessions. “Coming here gives me energy, and I feel good knowing that if I ever do have a problem while exercising, the Emergency Department is right downstairs.”