Joyful pied piper

Dr. Matthew Hahn is convinced that eating right and exercising can allow everyone to live long and prosper

Dr. Matthew Hahn is convinced that eating right and exercising can allow everyone to live long and prosper

September 02, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Dr. Matthew Hahn will "talk the talk" on three consecutive Tuesday evenings this month.

A family practitioner at Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock, Hahn will present "The Secret to Long Life and Good Health," during the September sessions of Washington County's Wellness Challenge 2002.

The county-wide program started last spring with 40 enrollees.

Hahn, the self-proclaimed "King of Wellness," does more than talk. He walks the walk, indeed, he runs the run - three to five miles at 5 a.m. most days.

And he encourages others - his patients, his staff - anybody who will listen - to do the same or at least to take steps toward a healthier life.


About a month ago he started a walking club and encourages wellness among the health center staff. Half of the 40 employees are involved so far.

He's a joyful pied piper of health. He feels good and it shows.

So what's the secret?

Eat right. Exercise. Don't smoke.

Not really a secret at all. Basic, sensible. Stuff your mother told you.

So why is Washington County's overweight rate at 30.79 percent - not too far from the 36.7 percent national rate?

Why is the county obesity rate at 21.59 percent - higher than the 20.1 percent national rate - according to information from the Maryland State Health Department.

Washington County's obesity rate is the state's second highest, says Angela Kershner, Washington County Health Department exercise specialist.

Knowing the secret to long life and good health is easier than living it. But living well - eating right, exercising and not smoking - is important.

Not living well can lead to disease - heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, Hahn says.

But "disease is not inevitable," he says. The term preventive medicine implies that disease is a natural process, Hahn says.

"Health is a natural process," he adds emphatically.

Living a healthy life - the King of Wellness' secret - is the key.

The way American medicine operates is people get sick, doctors treat them, and the pattern repeats, Hahn says. Preventing disease, promoting a healthy lifestyle needs to be part of the medical profession, Hahn says.

"Our society doesn't promote a healthy lifestyle," Hahn says. Twenty percent of the nation's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is spent on health care.

Just imagine what could be done if all that money could be spent elsewhere, Hahn says.

People are so busy they can't find time to exercise. "The foods that we promote are awful," says Hahn, who became a vegetarian 13 years ago.

A 1997 graduate of George Washington University Medical School, Hahn says he had one course in nutrition. "I often feel like a pariah" in the medical profession, Hahn says.

"Doctors have a responsibility to teach people to be healthy," he adds.

He's doing his part. He saves time in his schedule of 20-22 daily appointments to share information with his patients. He sets a good example and provides suggestions to help people start to make changes slowly.

When patients tell Hahn they don't have time to exercise, he tells them to think about their life. Running at 5 a.m. is where exercise fits best in his life, but that won't work for everyone. He recommends starting with 10 minutes of exercise.

Or he'll also ask them how much television they watch and suggest using an exercise machine in front of the tube.

Start slowly, he tells them.

When patients tell him they can't eat more fruits and vegetables, he tells them ways to sneak more into their diet. Start meals with a fruit or vegetable. He gives them his simple smoothie recipe - frozen strawberries, frozen peaches and orange juice. He uses a little soy milk. The flaxseed oil he uses is optional.

Nobody's going to change his life in five minutes. "It's something that takes years," Hahn says.

Ideally, health education should start with children. "Children want to be healthy. They love to learn and they learn so beautifully," he says.

If we wait until they're teens or in their 20s, patterns of bad nutrition and inactivity will start to take a toll.

How does Hahn motivate people to change their lifestyle?

"It's not any fun to grow old and be sick," he tells patients and they all agree.

Then he tells them his secret - eat right, exercise, don't smoke - and encourages and supports them.

Hahn believes that long life and good health are available to everyone.

The power is in the hands of the people.

Long live the King.

If you go

Washington County Wellness Challenge 2002

September Challenge:

Dr. Matthew Hahn, family practitioner, Tri-State Community Health Center, will present "The Secret to Long Life and Good Health"

Tuesday, Sept. 10, 7:30 p.m.

Western Heights Middle School

1300 Marshall St.


Tuesday, Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m.

Hancock Middle/Senior High School

289 W. Main St.


Tuesday, Sept. 24

Smithsburg Middle School

68 N. Main St.


Registration for first timers begins 30 minutes prior to event.

For information, call 301-791-3039.

Washington County Wellness Challenge 2002 began in the spring with 40 enrollees. The program, a county-wide effort including the Health Department, Washington County Hospital, members of the Board of County Commissioners, University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Recreation Department and the Board of Education, helps people set goals for physical activity, nutrition and stress management.

There will be a Wellness Challenge Celebration to honor the 107 people enrolled Saturday, Sept. 21, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Washington County Agricultural Education Center, Sharpsburg Pike, Md. 65, seven miles south of Hagerstown.

For information, call 301-791-3039.

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