Ahwatukee Foothills resident and former Army Ranger John Tuzzolino fought his way to eight gold medals in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Now Tuzzolino is trying to help other veterans fight a new battle against obesity.
Tuzzolino spoke Thursday at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix to kick off the department’s “Get Healthy and MOVE!” program. MOVE stands for Managing Obesity in Veterans and Employees Everywhere.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, around 70 percent of veterans are overweight and 20 percent suffer from diabetes. Studies show that obesity can cause significant health problems and may lead to high blood pressure, heart problems and a possible stroke.
Tuzzolino served in the Army from 1989 to 1992 and left after receiving a spinal cord injury from a motor vehicle accident. The accident left Tuzzolino confined to a wheelchair.
This injury, however, has not stopped Tuzzolino from an active lifestyle. He has gone on to win numerous wheelchair medals and was recently chosen as one of the 12 veterans for the cover of the Cheerios cereal box. Even with all of his success, Tuzzolino realizes how hard it is to get motivated and exercise.
“Sometimes you’re home alone and you don’t want to get out and exercise,” Tuzzolino said. “But exercise is important.”
Tuzzolino isn’t the only who realizes just how important exercise is.
Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center spokeswoman Paula Pedene said that losing just 10 percent of your body weight can make a significant improvement in your overall health.
“People who are successful in this program not only lose weight, but are able to get off of their medications as well,” Pedene said.
The 12-week program is divided into two six-week sections. The first section deals with nutrition. Dieticians help veterans look at what they’re eating by keeping a food journal. They also see a psychiatrist to help deal with some of the emotional reasons behind eating, Pedene said.
The last six weeks focus on physical exercise. Veterans are able to use the physical fitness program in the hospital to access treadmills, bicycles and other equipment. They also provide hand cycles for those who may be injured. Pedene said that after the 12 weeks, veterans are encouraged to join a local gym.
Ashley Bremer, registered dietician and facility coordinator of the MOVE program in Phoenix, said they’ve seen quite a bit of success in the people that finish the program.
“The hardest part of weight loss is it’s a lifestyle,” Bremer said.
That’s why veterans can enroll in MOVE Forward after they’ve completed the program to help keep off the weight. Bremer said that those who enroll in MOVE Forward seem to have an easier time keeping off the weight.
As for now, Bremer said the medical center is just looking for ways to get veterans involved in the program. And the best way to motivate people is by sharing success stories from veterans such as John Tuzzolino, Bremer said.
“They actually benefit from hearing how other people have been successful,” Bremer said.