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Walk Star: Dr. Dennis Hancock

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If you ask Dennis Hancock, Forage Specialist for University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, how he succeeded at achieving health and energy balance after years of unhealthy weight gain, he begins by saying, “I was too cheap.” Dr. Hancock, a top specialist in his field, is the authority on improving yields and increasing profits on a farm, but not a likely role model for balance. With 80-hour workweeks, and a commitment to the forage and livestock producers of our state, making time to improve his health and energy balance was not easy.

“I grew up on a farm, so I know energy is essential,” says Hancock. “But really, I was motivated because I didn’t want to buy bigger pants.” As his career advanced, he began to notice that he wasn’t able to keep up with the energy of his students and clients. Many people begin to buy bigger clothes as they fill bigger shoes, but not Hancock. He didn’t want his busy career to be an excuse to live an unhealthy life. “I took it personally,” he says. “I was being an example in work life, but not in personal life.” So how did he do it? By changing his entire life.

He acknowledges that it’s not popular to perform a complete lifestyle change, but says it’s easier when you simply commit and then orient your existing habits around health. To Hancock, a successful journey “has to be comprehensive…It was a change of diet. It was a change of exercise.” And though he admits success relies on commitment, and there’s no quick fix, he does say change only needs to happen one step at a time. Hancock began by simply committing to 40 days of better eating and exercise.

“After those 40 days, I wanted the next level,” says Hancock of his journey. So what did he do to sustain his motivation and continue the journey? “The key is getting involved with a group, or with friends.” Sites Walk Georgia promote what researchers and health enthusiasts already know about achieving health: social support and accountability are the keys to long-term success. Studies continue to prove that having community support plays an essential role in fitness and weight loss efforts.

Hancock emphasizes that support is the key to success; however, he asserts that you are still in charge of your own health. “It’s a personal challenge,” he says, “it’s personal setting your goals and holding yourself accountable to them.” He suggests establishing purely individual goals, because he believes it’s easier to achieve success when you’re truly doing it for yourself. “It helps you get over the fact that people might talk about you,” he says. “Let them talk; this is for me.” And for as much gratification as he feels personally, he says that he also simply sleeps better and has a lot more mental clarity. He admits this journey took a lot of time and effort, but he’s not exhausted. He points out that the time spent on becoming healthy yields big returns. He is more efficient and has the energy to do the things that he didn’t have the motivation to do before.

“I gave myself permission to change,” he says. “And if I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s not the type of thing that I would do!” Some things, however, have not changed, and he says it’s ironic; he started this journey to save money on pants, but admits, “I’ve had to buy a lot more pairs of pants while losing the weight!” While the weight (and the money for new pants) may be lost, he believes he’s gained a lot more in lasting mental and physical fulfillment.