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Starting healthy habits for family: John's health story

Bonnie Vengrow Bonnie Vengrow

I've seen my grandfather and my father both have their health deteriorate due to smoking.

Seeing that made me want to quit. In the back of my mind, I was going to be a father someday. I didn't want to be the father who was so unhealthy that he couldn't go and do stuff with his kids.

Martha, my wellness coach through Aetna, was incredibly valuable as a resource. I was discussing how I was beginning to lose weight, beginning to exercise, and one day it hit me that I'm taking all this time to eat better, to exercise more, and yet I'm literally breathing poison into my lungs.

I realized that day I had a conversation with Martha that I needed to quit smoking. When I say that I am a former smoker, it fills me with joy because I no longer crave nicotine, and that is incredibly freeing.

My wife and I have both wanted children since we got married. We're both incredibly excited and overjoyed to become first-time parents.

She credits the quitting smoking and getting healthier, getting more exercise, allowing us to become pregnant. It makes me so proud that my child will grow up in a smoke-free household.

John and Brittany Agin are real members who have given us permission to use their story.

After smoking for nearly half his life, John Agin finally had enough. What started as a way to hang out with friends in college had turned into a two-pack-a-day habit that nearly consumed him. The Columbus, Ohio, laboratory supervisor found that he was always thinking about his next smoke break, calculating whether a two-hour movie or a long plane ride was worth the agony of skipping a cigarette. (It almost always wasn’t.)

But more than anything, John and his wife Brittany, a casual smoker, wanted to start a family. John knew what it was like to grow up in a tobacco-soaked home ― his grandfather and father smoked well into their 50s ― and he saw the physical toll the habit took on both men. He knew he wanted his experience as a father to be different, healthier. So on January 15, 2016, John and Brittany stubbed out their last cigarettes and began their new life as non-smokers.

The couple leaned on each other daily, especially in the beginning. John also found support through Martha Buko, a wellness coach at Aetna. A former smoker, Martha taught John strategies to help him cope with the cravings and anxiety, like replacing thoughts of smoking with happy memories, or forcing himself to go to a store to buy a pack instead of bumming a cigarette from a friend. She also urged him to remember why he wanted to quit in the first place: to be healthy for his future child. (Learn more about Martha here.)

The strategies worked. John and Brittany haven’t picked up a cigarette since quitting and no longer have the urge to. Now that smoking is in the rearview mirror, John continues to focus on living a healthy life. Every day, he walks his three dogs in a nearby park or hits the elliptical trainer at home. And he and Brittany are cooking healthier meals for each other ― grilled chicken sausage and vegetables is a favorite recipe.

The couple is also preparing for their next adventure: parenthood. John says he’s proud his child will grow up in a smoke-free household. Though kicking the habit wasn’t easy, he says it has allowed him to reclaim his life. “I tried to quit a few times before, and the longest I went without smoking was six months. But I was still craving cigarettes,” he says. “This time, I no longer crave nicotine, and that’s been incredibly freeing.”

About the author

Bonnie Vengrow is a journalist based in NYC who has written for Parents, Prevention, Rodale’s Organic Life, Good Housekeeping and others. She’s never met a hiking trail she doesn’t like and is currently working on perfecting her headstand in yoga class.

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