Small Steps Lead to Big Changes for Senior Veteran

Veteran and Coach walking together
Marine Corps Veteran, Richard Fratarelli, 77, and his Whole Health Coach, Lindsey Higdon, walk the grounds of the Port Charlotte VA Outpatient Clinic.

It’s never too late to get healthy. At 77 years old, Marine Corps Veteran Richard Fratarelli has made huge strides in his personal fitness and health with help from a Whole Health Coach.

Fratarelli lost a whopping 70 pounds in less than a year with the support of his Whole Health Coach Lindsey Higdon at the Port Charlotte VA Outpatient Clinic in Florida. Besides sticking to a healthy diet, exercise was key to meeting his health goals. Fratarelli noted that when he started in June 2021, “I could barely make it across the room.” Now he walks four miles most days. He even walked a 5K Turkey Trot last November—with a walker!

Fratarelli, a Vietnam-era combat Veteran, said health care providers had been telling him for several years he needed to lose weight, and he had put it off. But he decided he couldn’t put it off any longer after his A1c level spiked, and he had to go on diabetes medicine. (An A1c level is a three-month average blood sugar level.) His VA primary care provider encouraged him to work with a Whole Health Coach to lose weight.

“And to lose weight, I was going to have to exercise,” Fratarelli said. “At that time, I couldn't do much exercise. Walking, every 50 to 100 feet I'd start huffing and puffing. And I had a lot of trouble with my hips.”

Rates of adult-onset diabetes (also known as Type 2 diabetes) have skyrocketed in recent decades. More than 35 million Americans have diabetes, and 96 million more are at risk to develop the disease. However, diabetes rates among Veterans are much higher than in the general population. About 25% of Veterans have the disease, compared with approximately 10% of non-Veterans.

After Fratarelli left military duty, he stayed physically active in his work. He served as a police officer and then spent 20 years teaching Junior ROTC at a local high school. However, after he retired from teaching, he slowed down physically and gained weight.

To begin his Whole Health journey, Fratarelli completed a Personal Health Inventory. Higdon reviewed information on moving the body and food and drink with him. Fratarelli then set SMART goals to make lasting lifestyle changes.

Fratarelli began meeting with Higdon once a week. She encouraged him to start walking small distances, less than a quarter mile, and add a little more distance each week. She also helped Fratarelli with meal planning and nutrition. “We added lots of water, fruits, and vegetables to his life,” she said.

Higdon noted that Fratarelli was very motivated to follow her recommendations. “Richard was ready [to make changes]. He showed up to all our appointments. He was serious about tracking and logging his exercise and counting calories. He was all in,” she noted.

Small steps added up to huge weight loss and a significant gain in mobility. Fratarelli set a goal of walking in a local 5K race – the annual Turkey Trot hosted by Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity – on Thanksgiving morning. “And I did. Next year, I’m going to do it without my walker!” he said.

Besides ditching pounds, Fratarelli’s doctor let him ditch both his diabetes medicine and decrease his blood pressure medicine. And he no longer has hip pain.

“If I can do this, anyone can do this,” Fratarelli said.

To learn more about starting your own Whole Health journey, talk to your VA health care provider. For more information, visit Get Started with Whole Health or view the fact sheet here: Whole Health It Starts with Me.