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Optimum Performance: Surviving the coaching lifestyle and living to talk about it | NOLA.com

In 1995, I hosted a seminar for local high school coaches called “Surviving Coaching.” Using a hospital affiliation, we offered free EKG screening, blood sugar and lipid analysis (cholesterol fractions and triglyceride), blood pressure check, body fat determination and dietary counseling. The title of my seventh book — “Stop Renting Your Health, Own it! A Three Step Approach” — conveys a message that we must all take control of our health before it owns us, which was the case with many of the coaches I encountered.

Again in 2008, we offered a similar screening to area high school and college coaches. This time we found a few high blood pressure conditions and several elevated blood sugar levels (pre-diabetes).

Much like what I found with the poor health of many obese NFL offensive and defensive linemen who came to me for help, some of these coaches were at risk for Metabolic Syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, Metabolic Syndrome is “a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”

One of the participants in the seminar, along with his staff, was J.T. Curtis, head coach at John Curtis Christian Academy. “If there were significant signs (medical issues) that needed to be addressed,” recalled Curtis, “I wanted to address them immediately. I did not want to ignore it.”

In Week 9 of the NFL season two head coaches — John Fox of the Denver Broncos and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans — had serious health scares.

Fox, 58, complained of dizziness Nov. 2 at a golf course and moved up the aortic valve-replacement surgery he was to have after the season. Kubiak, 52, dropped to his knees while walking off the field at halftime of a game against Indianapolis. He was found to have suffered a transient ischemic attack, or ministroke.

In 1998 Falcons coach Dan Reeves didn’t heed the warning signs and stresses of coaching and had a ministroke two days after leaving the hospital following quadruple bypass surgery, which kept him out of action during that season for four weeks. “I was in denial,” Reeves said.

Prior to a recent Thursday night NFL game vs. the Minnesota Vikings, Jim Haslett, former Saints head coach and now Washington Redskins defensive coordinator said, “With the Thursday night game, I think Monday I came in at like 2:30 (in the morning) and went home at 11 (that night). So it catches up to you after a while.”

“Mental stress is a very important potential trigger for acute cardiovascular events as well as chronic cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Carl Lavie, director of the Stress Testing Laboratory at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute.

As for the ministrokes suffered by Kubiak and Reeves, Lavie said, “It is a warning for a bigger and more permanent brain attack or completed stroke.”

Curtis emphasized that coaches “preach the right sermon (healthy eating and exercise) to their kids, but rarely do they follow their own message.”

The coaches I contacted all echoed the same point that long, stressful hours with little time during the season to get away from the game created much of the health risks, which coaches assume with the job description.

Curtis has a “24-hour rule” for his staff. He wants his assistants away from game preparation from Saturday to Monday. If they go out scouting on a Thursday night, he wants them home eating dinner beforehand.

The path to attaining a peak wellness level has to start with the mind before the body can be brought into the equation. Let’s hope for the sake of football coaches everywhere that the X’s and O’s dominating their focus does not cloud their vision from the impending danger of their lifestyle — win or lose.

Here are my recommendations for coaches to maintain their health:

  1. Stop renting your health. Take control of your life and health by deciding you have the power to live healthier.
  2. Eat right. I often recommend the Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats) because of its heart-healthy foundations, but find healthy ways to eat that work for you. You are more inclined to stay consistent if you enjoy the foods you are eating.
  3. Exercise. an’t stress it enough. Get your body moving for at least 30 minutes a day.
  4. Sleep. By not getting enough sleep, you are robbing your body and its metabolism of the rest it needs.
  5. Family time. Spend time with your kids walking or playing. Kids follow the example set by their parents. Show them the importance of being healthy.

Link: Optimum Performance: Surviving the coaching lifestyle and living to talk about it | NOLA.com.