Fit to Fly

Health & Wellness

For 37 years, Ken Johnson has watched the world from the sky as a Southeast Arkansas pilot. However, his ability to fly was threatened years ago when he experienced delays in passing the FAA-required medical portion of his pilot’s exam because of high blood pressure. In order for Ken to keep flying, something had to change.

It became rather difficult for Ken to obtain the medical go-ahead to keep flying for a number of years. “I had a very sedentary lifestyle,” he said. “I may have walked a couple times a month, but I was very limited on any type of physical activities – until I joined the Wellness Center.”

Ken is pictured here, before beginning his healthy lifestyle

Joining the Wellness Center was the motivation Ken needed to begin living a healthy lifestyle and get back to flying. “Flying gives you a whole different perspective,” he said. “You look out and see everything below you. It takes an automobile most of the day to travel 500 miles – I can do a trip like that in one day and be back in my own bed that night. I enjoy the ability to travel, to meet new people, to go new places. Aviation is my passion.”

Ken has also shared his passion with others as a flight instructor. He’s trained pilots who have gone on to become pilots of major airlines and work in the aviation industry.

When Ken joined the Wellness Center eight years ago, it changed his life – but not for a while. “It took a while for me to get going,” he said, before explaining that he would try, then stop for about three weeks, then start again.

The imperfect beginning of Ken’s health journey should be a lesson to others: Starting a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be perfect – you just have to keep going. “Don’t expect to be 100 percent into it the first time,” he said. “It’s going to take a little while for you to embrace it. You’ll slack off and have to refocus, but stay committed toward your overall goal. You may miss one day or a series of days, but it doesn’t mean you’ve given up. Go back and stay steadfast and get regularly involved, and before you know it, it becomes a habit. Each morning I wake up at 4:00 a.m., and even when it’s raining outside, there’s something in me that says, ‘You have to go.’”

Now that Ken has committed himself to a healthy lifestyle, working out shapes his entire day. “Now I love it – no one has to push me out of bed and drag me to the gym,” he said. “I get out of bed and prepare myself, and then I anxiously await the gym to open.”

While it could be easy to believe that exerting the energy to workout is draining, Ken knows that’s far from the truth. “After going in the morning, my favorite expression for the rest of the day is ‘let the endorphins soar,’” he said. “It just really rejuvenates me. It gives me focus and enhances the cognitive skills that are required in my job. It overall makes my day. It gives me an energy source. That exercise really brings the best out of me.”

Ken is pictured here, after losing weight

Ken knows that beginning a healthy lifestyle can feel daunting, but it’s doable. “I would encourage you to start today – start this moment,” he said. “I wish I had started a lot earlier. Putting it off only ads more to the frustration. Take the initiative, take the lead and start. Once you start, you meet people and they will share their experiences with you and encourage you to stay an active part of it. I kept putting it off, and once I got involved in the program and became somewhat consistent in my exercise regimen, I told myself, ‘I wish I had done it a lot earlier.’”

In addition to exercise, Ken said a healthy diet is vital for healthy living. In fact, he said he doesn’t enjoy unhealthy foods anymore, so eating things like hamburgers or steaks only happens on rare occasions. “My body just seems to want healthy food now,” he said. “If I go out and eat BBQ ribs, I feel sluggish the next morning. As a matter of fact, I feel terrible and almost nauseated sometimes. A lot of the foods that we have in our Southern diet, although they may be delicious, are not the best for us. We have a habit of picking up hamburgers and fast foods every day, and the long-term effects are that it just exacerbates poor health.”

Ken encourages his community to view others’ success as inspiration rather than intimidation. “If I see that another person has changed their lifestyle, I know if I strive and put forth the energy and commitment, I can do the same thing,” he said. “So I embrace that. If you take small steps at a time, you’ll see great progress long-term, and that’s what it’s all about. I’m doing this on a day-to-day basis for the long-term investment and benefit that can be obtained.”

Ken said his hard work is absolutely worth it for how good he feels today. “I’m 57, and I feel better than I did at 30,” he said. “I lost about 45 pounds. I went from a 46 in the waist to a 38. I can work in the yard for hours. Before, I would have to go and sit down, get some water, then start back again. I go to work and I’m just really upbeat. I feel happier. I’m more pleasant. I have a better attitude about things.”

Now, Ken has a completely new lifestyle. “I used to feel sluggish and rundown,” he said. I was very edgy and stressed – I think that compounded my blood pressure issues. Now I get up in the morning, go to the Wellness Center and all of that stress goes away. I feel totally rejuvenated – I feel young again. A healthy lifestyle and a healthy attitude: I wouldn’t have it if I weren’t participating in the Wellness Center.”

Ken loves the Wellness Center because of the open environment and teamwork that he experiences there. “The people are very friendly and hospitable,” he said. “ I enjoy the camaraderie that exists between the participants in the classes – that’s one of the things that has kept me going consistently. I participate in the cycling class, RPM, and I try to go three times a week.”

Wellness Center staff members’ encouragement and accountability is another big reason that Ken loves the center. “If you happen to miss a class, they reach out to see if you’re okay,” he said. “They also see the progress you’ve made and compliment you on it.”

Now that Ken has found a healthy lifestyle rhythm, he said it’s here to stay. “I’m on a journey, and each day that I go to the Wellness Center is part of that,” he said. “My journey is to have a healthy lifestyle, and I’m committed to that for the rest of my life. Living a healthy lifestyle is more important than any money in the bank. It’s more important than any trends. It’s one of the key investments that a person can ever make – it changes your whole life.”


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