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Politics

Staying Healthy Under the Dome

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Callie Richmond for KUT News

Every other year, Texas lawmakers race to get the state's business done in just  140 days. Cramming all that wheeling and dealing into such a short amount of time can put them on the fast track to getting run down.

Working a legislative session, especially during the last couple of months, is a 7-day-a-week, 20-hour-a-day grind. The schedule really took a toll on Kara Johnson in the 2011 legislative session. Johnson is a lobbyist. But after a couple of months visiting lawmakers, writing proposals, following meetings and dozens of bills...the stress got to her.

“I woke up that morning with a weird pain in my side. And I kept ignoring it and saying  'no, I’ve got this committee hearing. No, I’ve got these one-pagers I need to put together,'" said Johnson. "And sure enough by midnight, I walked through the door in my house and I couldn’t move anymore. And I was rushed to the emergency room.”

Johnson came back to work a week later. But things would change. After the session, she became a certified health coach to learn what she needed to do to stay healthy. This month, she launched Texascapitolhealth.com to share tips about staying healthy during the stress-inducing 140-day session. Tips that still fit into the run-and-gun action of a legislative session. Like: get enough sleep.

“However, what I said is during this time of session when we actually can get that sleep: get it now. Because literally in one month you’re not going to be able to have that luxury.”

Making healthy choices during session has long been a goal of Harlingen State Representative Eddie Lucio III. His father, State Senator Eddie LucioJr. has had two heart attacks.

“That really opened up my eyes to say, 'you know I have a young family, and while I’m up here I need to do the best I can to not only maintain, but I actually try to better my health while I’m here,'" said Lucio.

So back in 2007, Lucio formed the Capitol Wellness Club.

“We set up basketball games. We try to organize a member football game. We do runs. We’ve brought in yoga instructors. We’ve brought in CrossFit instructors," said Lucio. "And I’m trying to get feedback from the members right now as to what would be enjoyable to them from an exercise stand point so that they’d be willing to participate.”

Lucio has noticed a number of lawmakers have come back to Austin in much better shape than when they left town in 2011. And instead of hiding from him during exercise time, they’re joining in.

Health blogger Johnson said there are ways to keep fit even when lawmakers and others can’t make it to the gym. There are hundreds of steps at the Capitol to use instead of the elevator. And in coming weeks she’s going to make suggestions on what to eat at the Capitol cafeteria.

“They’re going to give me all of the meals that you can choose that are a much healthier option. And then I’m even going to start talking to local restaurants."

Johnson said she will also look at menus outside the Capitol.

"You know for folks who do these meetings at like the Roaring Fork, 'what can you eat at the Roaring Fork that is actually going to be good for you?'”

But the session is only 140 days long. Just how much can anyone improve their health in that time?  Walgreen’s John Brown was under the dome this week pushing another session fitness program. He said one can accomplish quite a lot.

“Lose quite a bit of weight. You can improve your blood pressure. For people who have diabetes, help control their diabetes. There’s a lot of different things you can do at about 90 days and on," said Brown.

Doesn't it always seem to take 90 days before anything gets accomplished during a legislative session?

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