OrthoCarolina's Aaron Hewitt: Small Steps to Big Life Changes

Hewitt and his wife rarely visit the same hiking trail twice, instead exploring new places whenever possible.
Hewitt and his wife rarely visit the same hiking trail twice, instead exploring new places whenever possible. Aaron Hewitt
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Approximately eight years ago, Aaron Hewitt, physician assistant manager at OrthoCarolina’s Sports Medicine Center, experienced what he calls his “aha moment.”

“I didn’t like the way I looked in the mirror and had a tough time putting on my dress shoes and socks,” says Hewitt. “I felt like an old man”—despite the fact that he was only in his early 30s.

Fast forward to present day, and a 50-pounds-lighter Hewitt is an omnipresent force in Charlotte's active scene. When not running the Trolley Trail or the USNWC with his wife, he can be found at a local yoga studio or CrossFit gym. He regularly competes in half and full marathons and has recently been named an ambassador for Lululemon Athletica (you can see his photo on the wall of the popular activewear brand’s South Park location).

Hewitt’s experience has become invaluable as he counsels his patients on how to work toward a healthier version of themselves. Here, Hewitt shares some takeaway lessons he’s learned from his experience, as well as his favorite places to get outside around Charlotte.  

"Take Small Chops at the Tree"

Take advantage of farmers markets around Charlotte.
Take advantage of farmers markets around Charlotte. Elvert Barnes

A constant reminder that Hewitt provides to patients: It takes time to get out of shape and time to get back into it.  “I didn’t get fat overnight,” Hewitt jokes about his journey from active kid to overweight adult.

But the journey back to a healthier lifestyle is best achieved in small, manageable increments. “Maybe you can start by eliminating soda,” he notes.

Once that first step is taken, however, Hewitt says you’ll start to feel encouraged and will be motivated to do more. Another easily doable early change is visiting one of Charlotte’s many farmers markets—Hewitt recommends the markets on Kings Drive and at Atherton Mill—where it's hard not to be inspired by the bounty of healthy produce. Along with the transition to healthier eating, Hewitt also recommends incorporating some form of basic exercise into your schedule.

But he cautions against making too many big changes right away, which can be overwhelming and lead to abandoning your goals. In fact, Hewitt says that those who try to make the most drastic life changes right away often have the lowest rate of long-term success. Instead, think of the process like cutting down a large tree: “Take small chops at the tree—don’t try to cut it down with one swing.”

And don’t let your age sway you from beginning a healthy transformation, either. Consider Hewitt’s journey: Although he ran track in high school, he didn’t run his first 5K race until he was 35. He crossed his first marathon finish line at 40.

Find a Healthy Balance

When you find an activity or sport that you enjoy doing, it’s sometimes tempting to overdo it at the start, especially if you’re seeing results right away. But Hewitt cautions against this, noting that the goal is to maintain this healthy lifestyle for a long time. “You don’t want to be so eager with one activity that you wear yourself out early on,” he says. It is not a sprint, he tells his patients, but a marathon.

In fact, Injuries stemming from the overuse of one body part or another make up the majority of Hewitt’s practice. The problem, he says, is not specific to one type of athlete. “I see overuse injuries from gardeners to yogis to cross fitters and runners.”

The antidote to overuse injuries that Hewitt recommends to his patients and utilizes in his own life is simple: “I’m really big on cross training. I run, do yoga, and lift weights. I use my body in different ways so it doesn’t go stagnant.”

Getting Around Outside Charlotte

The many falls of Dupont State Forest provide a welcome respite during summer long runs.
The many falls of Dupont State Forest provide a welcome respite during summer long runs. Charlie Cowens

Seasons play a part in where Hewitt spends his active days around Charlotte. The heat of summer finds him more often in the gym. As fall rolls in and temperatures drop, however, he heads for the trails. For a local run, Hewitt suggests the Trolley Trail and for a full-day adventure he likes Dupont State Forest. 

The Trolley Trail, officially dubbed the Lynx Blue Line Rail-Trail, follows the tracks of the commuter train from uptown Charlotte through South End. The wide, smooth path gets a lot of use, but there’s usually room for everyone. Several restaurants line the Trolley Trail and brewery-based group runs use it as part of their route (and a post-run beer is always additional incentive to lace up the running shoes).

Dupont State Forest is a couple hour’s drive from the Trolley Trail but a world away from its metropolitan vibe. The biggest draw of Dupont is its many scenic waterfalls. These spectacular cascades offer a refreshing respite in summer and a soul-soothing tonic year-round.

For a trail runner, though, the falls are just the beginning (or maybe the end). The 10,400-acre park is home to approximately 80 miles of multi-use trails. Dense forests, serene lakes, mountaintop views, and rolling hills all add interest to weekend long run. There are even filming locations from the blockbuster The Hunger Games and an abandoned airstrip to explore.

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

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