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Dennis Hansen exercises on a treadmill at Northgate Health Club two or three times a week, plus some kettlebell workouts to help with his weight loss.

Flat on his back last winter, Dennis Hansen made a life-changing decision.

The 70-year-old Kasson resident has battled obesity his whole life, and his reluctant introduction to kettle bell class was off to an auspicious start. The 335-pound man was unable to return to his feet without assistance as trainer Tim McPhee tested his new pupil.

That humbling moment spurred Hansen to embrace a healthier lifestyle, with support from McPhee and Complete Health Improvement Program administrator Meiping Liu, of the Rochester Clinic. After virtually every diet failed him, Hansen figured one more shot at changing his lifestyle was worth a shot.

To his surprise, a totally revamped diet, combined with early-morning walks and evening kettlebell sessions, has turned Hansen into a walking billboard for the CHIP program. He's lost 85 pounds — and counting — and frequently attends Liu's CHIP classes to share his story.

'It's a cruel world'

"There's a lot of pain that's involved with being obese," said Hansen, co-owner of Brinks Manufacturing in Albert Lea. "People look at you. You can't walk fast like other people. You can't go out with your kids. It's a cruel world for people who are extremely overweight.

"When I go talk, I see me sitting there and the pain involved. If I can get them to the edge and help them make that leap, that's the least I can do. Mei at CHIP is so passionate and has such a beautiful heart that I will give her all the time she needs to help people change their life."

The CHIP program was created in 1988 by Dr. Hans Diehl, who runs the Lifestyle Medicine Institute in California and has been dubbed "One of American's 20 Super Heroes of Health." His ideas target changes in personal habits rather than treating specific symptoms, based on the U.S. Surgeon General's assessment that 75 percent of Western health ailments are due to lifestyle choices.

Diehl is in Rochester this month as the featured speaker at Liu's Community of Wellness Health Fair, which runs from April 18-26.

Accordingly, Hansen has traded in his traditional staples of fast food and red meat for vegetables and healthier fare. The benefits have been eye opening. His problematic blood pressure and cholesterol numbers have plummeted, virtually eliminating his need for medication. As his weight has dropped, the surgeries planned on his aching knee and ankle have also been canceled.

Top-notch attitude

He now jumps out of bed to start his 6 a.m. workouts.

"I want to stress to people, it's not a big magic thing — just put away what you know in your heart isn't good for you," Hansen says.

Liu says Hansen's testimonial routinely inspires her new clients, while McPhee lauds his diligence.

"It was obvious he needed some work … but his attitude is always top notch," McPhee said. "He's never been a poor-me type."

The Midwest has been slow to adopt CHIP, but it appears to be catching on. Retired Mayo Clinic physician Thomas Harmon, who now works at Rochester Clinic, is a recent convert after it helped him drop 60 pounds and improve his underlying health numbers.

Liu and Dr. Harmon recently welcomed three current Mayo employees in for a CHIP training session, which led to an internal pilot program being tested at Mayo's Kasson facility.

It's getting glowing reviews from staff, according to Dr. Robert Bonacci, who will sit on an April 25 panel with Dr. Diehl, Dr. Harmon and other experts at Liu's Lifestyle Medicine Symposium. The event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Rochester Community and Technical College. Tickets are available by calling 507-218-3095.

"We know what we're supposed to say (to patients) and we say it … but we're not totally bought into the idea that this can actually impact and reverse your diabetes and heart disease, as crazy as that sounds," Bonacci said.

"Looking at health care from the 60,000-foot level, we spend a lot of time chasing chronic disease. This has the potential to put people in control and even get rid of their chronic disease. This is something that can really reduce health care expenditures and allow us to focus on other things."

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