BY REBBECA KONYA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN BISHOP
“Always consult your physician before starting a new exercise program.” It’s a caution that follows every infomercial for the latest get-thin, get-toned gadget. But how many of us actually heed that advice?
Mark Obermyer, an internal medicine physician at Springdale Primary Care Clinic in Brookfield, says there are no clear-cut guidelines when it comes to getting a doctor’s approval to begin a workout regimen.
“Most healthy people need little clearance,” he says. But older people or those with chronic health problems like a heart condition or diabetes should definitely see a doctor before packing their gym bag.
Likewise, people who experience discomfort like joint pain or shortness of breath while exercising should also consult a physician.
Visiting a doctor before you start an exercise program is the first step to physical fitness, says Obermyer. During an exercise readiness assessment, a doctor will do a physical exam, take a comprehensive health history and address any concerns you have.
Peak physical fitness doesn’t always prevent major health issues. Hans Wegesser of Menomonee Falls knows that first-hand. The 50-year-old ultra-marathon runner suffered a massive heart attack Sept. 4. Wegesser had just crossed the finish line at the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Classic, a 10K event in Sauk City, when he felt light chest pressure. Then he started feeling dizzy and nauseous. His friends sought medical attention and Wegesser was quickly transported to a local hospital.
“I had no clue I was having a heart attack,” Wegesser says.
Even after ER staff told him he was being transferred to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, Wegesser questioned the diagnosis. Surgeons eventually inserted two stents in Wegesser’s left interior descending artery.
“I had 100 percent blockage on the left side of my heart,” Wegesser says. “The doctor told me they call that the ‘widow-maker’ in his profession.”
But before long, Wegesser was walking the hospital corridors. At home, he began taking several short walks a day. Just one week after his heart attack, Wegesser was logging 25 miles on his bike.
“I lasted five days in cardiac rehab before they kicked me out,” he says. “The cardiologist told me I was the healthiest patient he’d ever had.”
Wegesser blames his heart attack on his previous lifestyle of smoking two packs a day, drinking and unhealthy eating.
“I abused my body for years,” he says. Then 12 years ago, when his oldest daughter turned 2, Wegesser quit smoking, dropped 80 pounds and took up running, a sport he’d pursued in his teens and early 20s.
“Running saved my life,” he says.
Though he’s back to trail running, Wegesser is careful to carry his nitro pills with him and he purchased a heart rate monitor. He’s training for the Ice Age trail run, a 50-mile trek through the Kettle Moraine State Forest in May.
Already a healthy eater and avid exerciser, the only major lifestyle change Wegesser has had to make is giving up sweets. “My vice is ice cream and donuts,” says Wegesser.
But per his doctor’s instruction, Wegesser has replaced his beloved Edy’s Rocky Road with sherbet.
“It’s an easy change,” he says. And one his daughters are happy to help him follow.