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Healthy-living promoter talks about change

May 04, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Joe Piscatella is more than happy to give you the skinny on fad diets.

They don't work.

Cigarettes? They're the kiss of death.

And when it comes to exercise, everybody knows they should do it, but most people would rather watch "Dancing with the Stars" than actually go out dancing.

Over the past three decades, Piscatella has been promoting good health as an author, speaker and host of several PBS specials.

Monday evening, he brought his message to Hagerstown during a community program at Robinwood Medical Center. His talk, "Healthy Living in a Double-burger.com World," was presented before a capacity crowd and was held in conjunction with National Nurses Week. 

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"We're very excited to have Mr. Piscatella with us tonight," said Mary Towe, chief nursing officer with Washington County Hospital. "One of the roles of a nurse is to educate and this is a wonderful opportunity to educate the public on how to make healthier lifestyle choices."

Whether it's exercise, losing weight or kicking the tobacco habit, Towe said there are no quick fixes.

"It's about making small changes, manageable changes that can make a positive difference in our lives," she said. "Tonight, those in attendance will receive good advice and some practical tools to improve their health."

Piscatella is an example, he admitted, of someone who didn't always make the right lifestyle decisions. 

He suffered a heart attack at the age of 32.

It was a wake-up call that caused him to make major day-to-day adjustments, including eating a more balanced diet, engaging in moderate exercise and reducing his stress levels.

"We're a very literate population when it comes to healthy lifestyles," he said. "We have a lot of choices. But the key word is 'choice.' One road is good for us. The other road leads to disaster."

Piscatella focused on what he considers to be the four most important areas of lifestyle change: diet, exercise, smoking and stress.

"They are all intertwined," he told the audience. "You can't just do one thing and think it serves all purposes.  There are no tradeoffs."

Unfortunately, he said, Americans are out of whack in making healthy decisions, which has led to an increase in Type 2 diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease.

"We've made some progress," he said. "But we have the distinct honor of being one of the most overweight countries in the world. And this year, the number of people we will lose to heart disease will equal 10 Vietnam wars."

Piscatella said Americans eat more fish, but it's deep-fried. They eat salad, but it's drenched in fatty dressing.  And chicken comes in the form of McNuggets.

"We know a lot about making the right, healthy choices," he said. "But we don't practice it. In one day in the United States, people consume 13 pizzas the size of the Roman Coliseum; 47 million hot dogs; 2,250 cattle in the form of Big Macs; 3 million gallons of ice cream; 1.2 million gallons of liquor; and 6 million pounds of chocolate."

Piscatella said it's important for people to educate themselves about health issues, but what is most important is making changes, no matter how small.

"Otherwise, daily chronic stress, smoking, bad foods and lack of exercise will sap your health," he said.

Daris Phillips of Hagerstown said she attended Monday night's program to learn more about preparing healthier meals.

"I walk and try to keep up on the latest health news," she said. "But I have high cholesterol and want to learn more about how I can cut the fat out of my diet."

Sandra Jones of Hagerstown said she was seeking motivation to start a weight-loss program.

"I know I should exercise and stop eating fast food," she said. "Maybe this will be the jump-start I need."

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