Once you get the fever, you do it because you want to. —Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen
MURRAY — It wasn't a typical political competition, as one community leader came out with a much better heart.
Actually, each of the 12 My Heart Challenge participants have better hearts.
For the past 100 days, eight mayors, two city council members, a city attorney and a city manager have been working on the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute's challenge, to lose weight, lower cholesterol and make healthy lifestyle changes.
Collectively, the leaders dropped 179 pounds and reduced their cholesterol by an average of 29 points, decreased body fat percentage by three points and lost an average of 2.6 inches in waist circumference.
Intermountain Healthcare dietitian Kary Woodruff said the results are "remarkable." With many of her clients, there is a decline in motivation after two weeks. She said this group kept going strong.
"I'm still obese, but I've started on the road to improvement," said Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen, who led the group with the most improved lifestyle. His 6-foot, 10-inch frame lost 43 pounds over the course of the friendly competition, a success he says has given him "a new lease on life."
Heredity and a mostly sedentary lifestyle was resulting in multiple daily medications and leading him to what he said would be an early death, but the 46-year-old who had been contemplating bariatric surgery has dropped two pant sizes and lost seven inches around his waist.
He says it is just the beginning.
"Once you get the fever, you do it because you want to," Christensen said. He no longer tours the snack food aisles at the grocery store and the whole family eats a better variety of breads, and more fruits and vegetables.
Cathy Christensen, who lost 16 pounds alongside her husband, said they enjoy fewer "potato and hamburger meals" and more salads and pasta dishes.
Midvale City Attorney Craig Hall never missed a single day of exercise and eating right throughout the competition and his commitment paid off, making him the overall winner of the challenge.
Hall lost 12 pounds and significantly improved his cholesterol level by swearing off fast food and soda. He also took up biking and covered more than 400 miles in the past 100 days, including 80 while on a recent vacation in Washington state.
"I didn't feel bad at the beginning, but I feel better now," he said.
Both winners received $1,000 to go toward improving the health of residents in their communities. Christensen said he'd like to work with children in his jurisdiction, teaching them better habits and perhaps providing bicycles for them to use to become more physically active.
Hall said the Midvale Employee Association will begin a similar competition to the My Heart Challenge on Sept. 1, involving all city employees. He is planning to participate.
Intermountain Medical Center Administrator David Grauer said such efforts are exactly what inspired the competition. The entire health care industry, he said, is shifting its focus from rescue to prevention, "helping people to make good choices in their own lives."
"Making lasting and meaningful changes is not an easy thing," Grauer said, encouraging the community leaders to continue to share their passion and commitment for good health.
Dr. Don Lappe, Intermountain's chief of cardiology said the best results are not achieved by taking pills to lower cholesterol and to treat diabetes, but by improving lifestyles. The scope of cardiovascular disease, he said, is declining, but there is still one death resulting from it every 39 seconds across the nation.
In addition to Christensen's 43 and Hall's 12, Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth lost 11 pounds, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon lost 25, Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore shed seven, South Jordan Mayor Scott Osborne lost nine, Murray Mayor Dan Snarr was 12 pounds lighter, West Jordan City Councilman Ben Southworth lost 15, Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall shed 13, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood lost 14, and Herriman City Manager Brett Wood lost 18 pounds.
Megan Kline, an exercise physiologist with Intermountain's cardiac rehabilitation program, said each of the participants are busy with their jobs sometimes seven days a week and faced a barrier of time. But each was required to engage in either 20 minutes of intense or 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five days a week.
Participants were scored on their overall improvements in weight, waist circumference, body fat percentage and other factors. Experts, like Kline, helped them with any weaknesses in their routines.
"It was not all about the numbers," she said. "They all had success. They all really changed their frame of mind."
Applegarth said he took it one day at a time, making small improvements along the way.
"You've got to make sure that what you're eating is going to be beneficial to your body," Snarr said, adding that there has to be balance in every aspect of life.
"This is something that is not done quickly and it is hard," Woodruff said. "I admire the time they spent on it and their consistency and persistence."
Another 25 pounds for Christensen would put him at the same place surgery would have left him. "But I think this is a much better solution," he said. "I'm headed in the right direction for the first time in 10 years."