EDITOR’S NOTE: National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner visited Gainesville in April to share his nine “Blue Zone Power Approaches” to living a longer life. This series is dedicated to those approaches and how they can be implemented in Hall County. The second power approach, “Move Naturally,” states the world’s longest-living people are constantly moving, without even thinking about it.
When Keith Guernsey met his wife, Susan, his life changed.
The Gainesville resident and Boston-area native met Susan in 1996, after two brain surgeries to remove a tumor. The surgeries left him depressed, and he turned to food for comfort.
“I had two life-threatening brain surgeries,” he said. “I had a benign tumor called an acoustic neuroma, and after that kind of surgery, you’re not very mobile. It’s not like you can go to the gym and work out. So you get depressed and you start eating. And you eat, eat, eat and eat.”
Guernsey said his weight reached “way over 300 pounds.” That’s when Susan arrived on the scene.
“I met Susan in ’96, and that really changed my life completely,” he said. “I knew I had to be healthy to have a long life, and I had to get rid of all that excess weight.”
The couple married a year later as Guernsey started losing weight. Today, he is down more than 123 pounds. He credits a healthy diet and plenty of daily movement for the weight loss.
Guernsey said he researched the best ways to lose a significant amount of weight.
“I read you have to lose it slowly if you want to keep it off,” he said. “Over the course of, maybe 10-15 years, I lost 50 pounds. But I hit a plateau if you will, and it stopped.”
Guernsey lost the weight while living and working in Massachusetts, but three years ago he and his wife moved to Gainesville. They live in Cresswind at Lake Lanier subdivision.
Cresswind is an “active-adult community,” which boasts a clubhouse including an indoor pool, outdoor pool, hot tub and fitness center.
“When we moved here, I figured the big guy above put me in a place like this with a gym right down the street,” he said. “So I had no excuse.”
He took advantage of the active-adult amenities, shedding 73 more pounds since moving to Cresswind in 2013.
Now Guernsey keeps the weight off with a daily routine. He wakes up by 5 a.m. to do cardio at the center, while his wife walks the family dog. He does an hour of cardio every day, usually walking or jogging on the treadmill and then cycling on the stationary bike. Plus, the 64-year-old does some light weightlifting.
Living an active lifestyle and participating in sports have always been important to Guernsey, who grew up 10 miles from Fenway Park in Boston. He played hockey and football growing up and excelled in both. But he said he was “always a chubby kid.” His nickname as a child was “Cow.”
Guernsey said he remained active through college, but took “a bit of a break” from active living from ages 23-53.
Luckily, Susan and his poor health motivated him to start living better and losing weight.
As his size decreased, he watched his overall health improve.
“As the weight dropped, so did my blood pressure and glucose, and I have no more asthma,” he said.
As another form of therapy after his surgeries and during his first round of weight loss, he wrote a book. “Confessions of a Beantown Sports Junkie” tells the story of his surgeries and his experience as a player, coach and fan of all Boston sports. This year, he self-published a sequel, “Fathers and Sons — Sports and Life,” which picked up where the first left off.
As he looks back on the past 20 years, Guernsey said his way of thinking about food and healthy living has changed dramatically thanks to his wife. He had cultivated some extremely bad habits as a bachelor, which had to be broken over time.
“When Susan and I first met, she said, ‘You know what the four food groups are, don’t you?’” Guernsey said. “I said, ‘Of course — pizza, Chinese food, Bud Light and Ben and Jerry’s.”
But the Massachusetts native did not have to change his eating habits alone. Susan Guernsey started with Weight Watchers when the couple moved to Gainesville. Guernsey said it gave them a guideline for their diets. They gravitated more to fruits, vegetables and fish than take out and ice cream.
Throughout the years, Guernsey said he’s cultivated a list of the essentials for successfully losing weight and keeping it off.
The first and most important thing was “the love and support of my wife,” he said.
“They aren’t secrets to success, but they are sort of touch points that have allowed me to get to this point,” he said. “Susan has not only been incredibly supportive, but she’s done this with me. Together, we have lost 166 pounds.”
The second tool was having access to a gym or a place to work out. But Guernsey said moving regularly and naturally at home is just as important.
“Move around after you have a meal,” he said. “I remember regularly sitting in my recliner after a big meal. That’s not good for your digestive system or for your health to just lie around like that.”
Instead, he said, he will go outside to play with the dog or walk up and down the stairs a few times.
Finally, Guernsey said portion control and cutting back on indulgences are essential to losing weight the right way.
“No one loves a cold beer more than I do,” he said. “But you have to decide. You have to pick what you really want.”
And one thing Guernsey wants is to hit his goal weight of 150, meaning he has 30 pounds to go. But he believes he can do it.
“I will lose it,” he said. “And I will do it in a controlled fashion, because I know enough to know losing rapidly doesn’t help you keep it off.”