Before Dr. Laurence (Larry) Cohen had double bypass heart surgery, he often joked that he loved vegetables. The onion, lettuce and ketchup tasted great on top of the double cheeseburgers that he paired with French fries slathered in chili.
When his hospital co-workers gently chided him, telling him that such a diet could cause serious health problems, Dr. Cohen responded arrogantly: “Well, at least I’ll die enjoying myself.’’
Cohen figured he could do whatever he wanted. After all, he came from a long lineage of healthy ancestors.
When the 5-foot-6-inch-tall doctor reached 196 pounds, his arrogance faded.
“I didn’t like how I looked,’’ Dr. Cohen said.
He gave up cheeseburgers, dropped 60 pounds in six months, and he ate only vegetables, fish and skinless chicken. Dr. Cohen worked out three or four days a week and dropped his cholesterol from 280 to 170.
“I’m glad I changed my health,’’ he said. “But something bad still happened.’’
Four years after he dramatically shifted his lifestyle, he was training for his first triathlon.
“About five, six months into training I noticed my endurance was going down. I was having enough symptoms that it made me ask one of my cardiology friends to do a treadmill stress test on me.” The results of that stress test were not good. “I had three vessel coronary bypass graft surgery in 2003. This is four years after I decided to get healthy.”
Since then, Dr. Cohen, an emergency room physician at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, has consumed only plant-based, whole foods with no added fats or oils. Today, Dr. Cohen spends Sunday mornings evangelizing about diet and exercise. He leads a local group as part of the national Walk with a Doc program, which focuses on education, exercise and empowering people to walk for their health and ask questions about their health.
“You’ve heard the buzz that inactivity is the new smoking. In fact, our diet is the No. 1 cause of premature death in the United States, followed by smoking as the No. 2 cause of death. We’re just killing ourselves with food that we are eating,’’ Dr. Cohen said. “Inactivity is the No. 5 cause of premature death.’’
During the leisurely one-to-two-mile treks, participants can ask Dr. Cohen questions about any health concern. Dr. Cohen started a recent walk by talking about type 2 diabetes, stressing that a disciplined diet and exercise can help reverse the disease.
He tells participants about his own journey to health, and how after having heart surgery, he became very interested in Lifestyle Medicine, and he has served on the inaugural board of the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine.
“I became very interested in health, as opposed to disease. I started researching lifestyle medicine — in particular things like heart disease and diabetes. What we’ve found is 80 percent of our chronic diseases, like high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, even some cancers can not only be prevented, but can be arrested and reversed with certain lifestyle changes.
“Walking is a great exercise because it’s low impact and the more you walk the better the benefits,” he said.
Since he started the Walk with a Doc program in April, he’s captured an audience. The walks are free and open to the public. For more information, go to http://walkwithadoc.org/our-locations/colorado-springs-colorado/