Col. John O’Brien was skeptical about the Army’s Performance Triad healthy living initiative when it launched last year at three U.S. military bases.
“I didn’t think it would make much of a difference,” he recently told Health.mil.
Col. John O'Brien, 52, runs in the Shawnigan Lake Triathlon on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, on May 25, 2014.
But O’Brien, 52, chief primary care doctor at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, changed his mind after giving the Performance Triad a try and shedding more than 30 pounds.
“I’d been trying to lose weight for a while,” said the 6-foot-3 triathlete, who routinely runs, swims and cycles to stay in shape. Yet he still felt “stuck” at around 225 pounds.
A personal fitness device can help you succeed
Enter the Performance Triad
, which focuses on three mutually reinforcing areas – sleep, activity and nutrition – at the same time for optimal health. Participants are given a “personal fitness device” to wear that measures their steps, calorie intake and sleep patterns.
“When I got my [device], and I linked it up with a cellphone app …, I was able to record all my steps and all the food I ate,” said O’Brien. “It empowered me to make a change that I’d been trying to make for years.”
At first, however, O’Brien said he doubted that such a small device, which resembled a wristwatch, could help anyone. “I looked at it and thought, ‘Really? That’s not going to do anything,’” he recalled.
Walk at least 10,000 steps per day to maintain a healthy weight
Wearing the device – coupled with a Performance Triad goal of walking at least 10,000 steps per day – made him realize how important daily activity is to weight management.
“The average American takes about 5,000 steps a day,” said O’Brien. “If everyone in the country would take 10,000 steps a day, they’d maintain a healthy weight.”
To actually lose weight, you need to walk more than that, he added.
O’Brien said he burns about 70 calories for every 1,000 steps he takes. Using the high-tech tools at his fingertips, he calculated how many steps he needed to walk to lose two pounds per week – some 17,000 a day, or about 8 miles.
“I didn’t need to starve myself. I just walked more. For me, it was revolutionary,” said O’Brien.
All three elements are critical to reach your goals
At the same time, he used his personal fitness device to record what he ate and count calories, including specific menu items at many chain restaurants. It also measured how much he slept and the quality of sleep.
The importance of sleep to your weight cannot be underestimated, said O’Brien, noting that he doesn’t eat as well when he’s tired. He tries to get at least seven hours of sleep per night.
The Performance Triad’s different focus areas should be viewed as an integrated whole: “If you’re trying to optimize your weight and your performance, you can’t do just two of the three,” he said.
“Before I just focused on exercise and thought I could eat whatever I wanted,” he added.
A typical breakfast for O’Brien now consists of a banana, an apple, a protein bar and two cups of coffee. For lunch he usually eats a salad or a sandwich, while his dinner menu is more varied. Two things he has not given up entirely, but eats in moderation, are pizza and chocolate.
“Weight loss is really simple: eat less, exercise more,” he said. “It’s about balancing what you eat with your activity level.”
Shed pounds to stop taking medications for chronic conditions
In addition to losing weight, O’Brien said his cholesterol levels and blood pressure reading have improved, and he stopped having acid reflux.
The upshot: He no longer needs to take any medications for any of these conditions.
“I stopped taking all my medicines, and I feel awesome,” he said.
All you need to do is start walking to start losing weight
O’Brien knows others who have had similar success using the same formula, including an overweight friend who has lost more than 50 pounds.
“She was over 275 pounds. Now she’s down to 220 pounds,” said O’Brien. “There was no way she could run, but once she realized that all she had to do was walk she went crazy with it.”
And there is nothing to stop anyone else from doing the same thing. Mobile apps that count calories and steps are available for free. A personal fitness device costs about $100, but is well worth the investment, as are a good pair of walking shoes, O’Brien said.
The Army, he concluded, has produced a winning formula: “I think that the Performance Triad, as simple as it sounds, is a core skill that all of us … should learn.”
About the Performance Triad
In September 2013, the U.S. Army Medical Command launched a pilot program for Army Medicine’s Performance Triad of sleep, activity and nutrition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state and Fort Bliss in Texas, with a third site added in October at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. This year, it is being expanded to include family members and retirees as well as more installations.
You can read more Performance Triad success stories by clicking on the “My Health Stories” icon on the Army Medicine