BANGOR, Maine — Men in my family have an unfortunate knack for dropping dead in their 50s.

My father died of a heart attack when he was 58 and his father succumbed to a heart attack at 55.

I try not to let it worry me, but I’m 54 and have been 20 pounds overweight and unwilling to exercise regularly for 15 or 20 years.

That’s why it really hit home in January when my physician said my blood pressure was elevated and suggested it was time to start taking medication.

I asked for a few months to try lowering it with diet and exercise — but I did almost nothing.

Then in May I saw a Facebook post that changed everything. It was a discussion about the 30-day “KickStart Program” at Wilcox Wellness and Fitness in Bangor.

After reading more, I knew that I had to sign up. I was finally ready to make a change.

“Our mission is to help people enhance their lives by forming healthful habits that they can sustain for a lifetime,” Wilcox Wellness and Fitness co-owner Mike Wilcox said. “We believe that when people commit to healthy living, everything else in their life falls into place and life just gets better.”

From the outset, everything clicked. I had an initial goal-setting meeting with Katie Norwood, one of Wilcox’s dedicated certified personal trainers. We discussed what I hoped to get out of KickStart.

All the new clients gathered on a Saturday for the first group workout. The trainers — Scott Philbrick, Wilcox and Norwood — along with co-owner Paige Wilcox, who provides behind-the-scenes inspiration, were all on hand.

It was challenging, but the fatigue, perspiration and subsequent pain and stiffness actually felt good. It was proof that even though I was sadly out of shape, there was hope that I could get fit.

A key element of the Wilcox Wellness and Fitness KickStart Program is the nutrition plan, which is mapped out in detail in a guide book. It contains shopping lists, delicious recipes and full menus for 30 days.

Naturally, the majority of people who immerse themselves in a regular exercise routine are going to look and feel better. But the meal plan is the cornerstone of this program.

I discovered that the changes made in eliminating sugar, simple carbohydrates and most processed foods from your diet are what open the door to being able to enjoy whole foods and feel better.

I had assumed that my desire to eat sugary and starchy foods was a matter of choice. But only three days into the plan, my cravings were completely gone. I was amazed.

I found myself with more energy and even noticed a dramatic improvement in my mood and self-confidence.

Having begun to eat great food, I also became enthusiastic about the group training. The folks at Wilcox make it easy, providing all the tools I needed to making a significant life change.

The workouts are varied and incorporate numerous exercises to work different areas of the body. Building a stronger core is key and an emphasis on using proper form helps maximize results and minimize injury.

The trainers inspire confidence with their fitness knowledge and they consistently exhibit a high level of enthusiasm and intensity that helps clients focus and work hard.

And the support continues outside the gym. Paige Wilcox sends out frequent Facebook messages and emails that help clients learn more and remain motivated in all facets of the program.

The result is a well-rounded framework that gives clients all the tools they need to eat well, work out wisely and achieve their health and fitness goals.

“We focus on forming habits, allowing people to achieve their goals and sustain them for a lifetime by adding in more fun activity, fresh delicious food,” Wilcox said. “This allows our clients to live life to the fullest, not sacrificing anything in life.”

The KickStart Program at Wilcox Wellness and Fitness was exactly what I needed to start turning my life around. Upon completing the month, I lost a combined 20½ inches in my arms, shoulders, chest, waist, hips and thighs.

“Participants in our four-Week KickStart Program can expect to form healthy habits that will set them up for a lifetime of healthful living,” Wilcox said.

“On average, participants lose 9-12 inches off their body (six measurement points) and 5.2 percent of their waist measurement. We have had participants lose up to 24.5 inches and 30 pounds,” she added.

I feel great and look better, but I still have a lot of progress to make in what I consider a lifelong process. I am training three days a week at Wilcox and continue to follow the nutrition plan.

It is so gratifying to attend workouts with other like-minded people who are committed to better health and trainers who want to help us achieve it.

Ultimately, it is up to the clients to follow the nutrition plan, attend training sessions regularly and develop good habits to achieve the desired results.

I’m sharing my story in the hope that anyone who feels sluggish, fat and out of shape can turn their lives around. I am indebted to the Wilcox staff for helping me do just that.

Within a couple of weeks, my blood pressure readings returned to the normal range. God willing, I’ll be able to stay healthy and fit for many years to come.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...