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Healthy Balance

‘Stealth Health’ at the Men’s Four Miler

Tim Gable was out of shape.

The active and healthy lifestyle of his youth had given way to a desk job and much more sedentary existence, in general.

He moved less.

He gained weight.

Men running for health

Running even short distances took serious effort.

Unlike so many of his peers, however, Gable decided to do something about it.

He started running and never really looked back.

The then-Plow & Hearth ad man signed up for the 2004 Charlottesville Men’s Four Miler, showed up at the Saturday morning training program, and promptly realized how out of shape he was.

“I almost could not run,” Gable says. “Two times around the track was hard.”

Luckily for his health, however, he kept at it, and a successful Men’s Four Miler gave way to longer and more demanding races, to the point where Gable had run a full marathon roughly one year after first reacquainting himself with his running shoes.

“It led to watching what you ate, what you drank, just a complete turnaround to a healthy lifestyle,” Gable said of the move to run.

Unhealthy Men

Suffice to say, the still committed runner Gable is not typical when it comes to taking control of one’s health.

Even the word “health” is a barrier to getting more men to consider taking control of their lifestyles, according to William Steers, MD.

Instead, you need to wrap healthful lifestyle decisions in the language of performance and competition, says Steers.

The Four Miler, in this case,  represents a fine example of what Steers calls “stealth health.”

“The Men’s Four Miler evolved out of the fact that so many of the men who walk into the clinic are in poor health,” Steers said. “They tend to be in worse health than women and their life expectancy is less.”

Steers says urologists are often the first doctors to see problems of the aging male. Various “below the belt” issues, including erectile dysfunction (also called ED), often have a direct corollary to general health and activity. Difficulty with sexual function is one of the highest predictors of future heart attack, for instance.

Says Steers, “In urology, at least 70% of what we do is caused by, or worsened by, being out of weight or out of shape.”

And if four miles seems like a stretch for some, prospective racers of all skill levels are encouraged to turn out for Saturday morning training sessions. Novices start out with two laps of running or walking around a track but eventually, organizers insist, are running four miles.

Taking the Initiative for Men’s Health

The race, which starts and ends at UVA’s Scott Stadium on Father’s Day (June 17), aims to encourage men to become more physically active, but also raises awareness of the still-developing Virginia Men’s Health Improvement and Performance Initiative. The multidisciplinary organization, which is helmed by Steers, aims to take a holistic and decidedly manly approach to getting a handle on an unhealthy nation of men.

“Men account for a disproportionate share of healthcare costs. Until a health system figures out how to get men healthy, they will never save healthcare costs,” says Steers.

The VMHIPI is still in its infancy, but Steers envisions a group with physical, medical, educational and even legislative components, all based out of the UVA Health System.

‘The Fountain of Youth’

For now, though, a few thousand people running is demonstrable progress toward the goal of developing healthier men.

“If people want to ward off cancer and heart disease, the fountain of youth is probably exercise,” Steers says.

Gable has similarly direct advice for would-be runners.

“Don’t worry about how fast you can run or how far you can run,”  Gable says. “Just go out there.”

The Men’s Four Miler starts at 7:30 a.m. on June 17 and is open to runners of all skill levels.

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