On the front lines of fitness

Chris Mogadam

Imagine what would happen if most people put the same amount of energy into the preventative maintenance of their bodies that they put into their cars.

Chris Mogadam, a family and community health program coordinator with the Oregon State University Extension Service, has seen what happens when people don’t take care of themselves — and when conditions like heart disease, obesity and diabetes come to rule people’s lives.

Through the extension office in Astoria, Mogadam, a Cannon Beach resident since February, educates children, teens, adults and seniors relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on how to live healthier by eating well and exercising regularly.

And a lot of his job comes down to dispelling myths and raising awareness.

For example, “there’s this fallacy that eating healthier costs more, but it really doesn’t,” he said. “It does involve a little bit more effort, a little bit more thinking, a little bit more meal planning.”

One technique for shoppers with limited resources: Don’t shop the aisles of a grocery store; instead, work the perimeter, especially where the raw produce is kept. Buying fresh kale and spinach in a bunch often stretches one’s dollar further than buying them in prepackaged form, he said.

It also pays to read nutrition facts and track the number of calories — and the kinds of calories — one consumes daily: carbs, fats, proteins, sodium, etc.

“With most of us, we don’t know our numbers,” he said. “The numbers add up real quick.”

Before Mogadam earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in exercise physiology — both from San Diego State University — he worked at an intensive care unit in Modesto, Calif., as a high school senior.

Though he played sports — which, he said, saved him from getting into trouble — Mogadam always knew he came from a family predisposed to Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes. He experienced firsthand what a relative’s chronic illness can do, not only to the patient but to his or her loved ones.

“When you have a family, it’s no longer just about you. If you have kids, and you got a husband or wife, your health directly has an impact beyond just things you’ve got to deal with,” he said. “When you’re raising a family and you’re on benefits, you really can’t afford to get sick.”

He decided he would do whatever he could to help others realize that such illnesses are avoidable.

While at university, Mogadam worked at a hospital doing electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring, and, as a grad student, at a cardiac rehabilitation center. Later on, in Seattle, he worked as a personal trainer, a physical education director, and a health and well-being director.

Time and again, he has met people who changed their lives by making small adjustments to their routine.

There’s the woman in her mid-40s on blood pressure medication who didn’t know she was eating two days’ worth of salt in a single meal. And the woman who would drink more than 30 cups of coffee a day and couldn’t figure out why she had trouble sleeping.

After becoming more self-aware about their diets and lifestyles, both women changed them, he said. The first woman soon cut her medication in half, and the second got to a point where she could sleep again, he said.

Mogadam, who lives with his wife, Ellen Boyle, keeps himself busy spreading the fitness gospel.

He is currently promoting a “mobile garden” program for local schools — devised by his co-worker Miki Souza and his predecessor — in which students take donated shopping carts lined with gardening paper, fill them with soil and grow their own fresh edibles.

In collaboration with Clatsop County 4-H, Mogadam is running a “preseason teen conditioning” program at Astoria High School, where students not playing a sport can sign up for 40 to 45 minutes of guided physical activity.

Soon he will launch a six-week “Walk With Ease” program through the American Arthritis Foundation for the seniors of a housing facility in Astoria, a program he hopes to hand off to the residents once his role in it is finished.

And, with each venture, he promotes the nutritionally sound life, often pointing people to the OSU website foodhero.org, a free resource full of simple, healthful recipes.

The sooner one picks up healthy habits, the better off one will be over the long run — not least because, “as we age, we usually don’t get less stressed, we get more, with family life, work, kids,” he said.

Mogadam knew a cardiologist from Indian who observed that, in the United States, young people tend to trade in their health to make money; they focus on their careers and ignore their mental and physical well-being.

Eventually, the cardiologist said, when these people get older and the illnesses of aging begin to take their toll, they need to spend that money to become healthy again.

“But that model doesn’t work,” Mogadam said. “You can’t always trade in your money to get your health back, so pay attention to it.”

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