Health Revolution

In 2015, the Polk County Community Health Assessment listed obesity and weight gain among the major health challenges facing Polk County residents. The goal of the assessment was to encourage collaborative work in our community towards improving health and well-being. Just two years later, the state Department of Health recognized Polk County, and Winter Haven in particular, as a “Community Champion” for implementing strategies shown to increase physical activity and improve nutrition.

Photography by Monica Winters

Brandon Roggow, a health and nutrition specialist, has been part of this health initiative in Winter Haven from the beginning. Roggow is a lifelong Polk County resident. He grew up in Auburndale. He and his wife, Maria, and their two children now live in Winter Haven where he is the founder and visionary behind Habitat Health and Fitness, a Winter Haven gym that focuses on life transformation through getting people emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. WH magazine caught up with Roggow to talk about his passion of seeing Winter Haven become a healthier and more physically active community.

WH: How did you get into fitness?

Brandon Roggow: I didn’t play sports through school. Growing up I was always chunky. Although I would not have been considered overweight, I was self-conscious of my weight. I began working out at age 19, and my goals were just like every other 19-year-old boy. I wanted to weigh 240 pounds of solid muscle. After striving for that goal and even hiring a personal trainer at one point, I realized that, with my body type, maintaining a more athletic goal was realistic. After seeing success with a personal trainer and experiencing the benefits, I decided to pursue a career in fitness. I was already reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. I became obsessed with fitness in general.

WH: Winter Haven is ranked high in obesity and weight gain. In 2015 the Health Department put together a study to address these issues. Were you aware of this fact?

BR: I became aware of it back in 2012. At the time, I believe Winter Haven/Lakeland was ranked the seventh most obese community in the nation. Sometime in 2015, Nat West and some of the other fitness professionals around town started meeting to figure out ways to promote an active community. Nat organized “Fitness at the Fountain” where once a month a fitness professional would lead a group workout as a free community outreach.

WH: What do you think contributes to the rise in obesity and lack of physical health nationwide and in our area?

BR: We live in a microwave age where people expect things in an instant and technology does all the work. We no longer wash dishes. The dishwasher does that. We no longer push a lawn mower. We hop on the riding mower instead. With a decrease in physical activity and an increase in convenience foods, the health issues we’re facing should be expected.

WH: What was the idea behind Habitat Health and Fitness? What is Habitat’s vision?

BR: Before I started Habitat Health and Fitness, I worked in a local gym as a personal trainer, and I worked with clients one-on-one. Most people couldn’t afford to work with a trainer individually. I would see a new person join the gym and then wander around aimlessly, bouncing from machine to machine with no plan and no idea how to get real results. I wanted to create a program that was more affordable for the average person and designed around results. Through my experience as a personal trainer, I found the best machine to use that is safe and gets results is our own body.

We started out as an in-home personal training company. (That’s where the name Habitat comes from.) When we opened our location, I wanted to keep with the same concept of an in-home training program and use tools like dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, and body weight. This would empower our clients because they would learn workouts they could do even while not with us. Our goal is to create life transformation through getting people emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy.

WH: How is Habitat different from other gyms?

BR: We focus on results. We’ve invested in a $7,500 scale to help us monitor our clients’ success, and it plays a big part in what we do. We also help with nutrition, motivation, and accountability, which is an important part. Our goal is to help our clients stay engaged in the program with different challenges through the year.

WH: Community and accountability is a big part of weight-loss success. How has Habitat become a “community” for people who are trying to improve their health?

BR: I stumbled upon this while doing personal training. When I worked with one client, they would experience good days and bad days, and no matter how good I was at motivating, they would only push themselves so far. When I started pairing clients up, they would automatically work harder and talk less. Then, when we started Habitat, I noticed it evolved into a community of people working on their health and fitness together. I later started reading about how we are who we hang around with. If you want to be healthy, get around other people who are striving for the same goals. We look at Habitat as a family. Even the team we have now in place, we are all family and we support each other.

WH: How are you working with other health services in the city to create a “community of health” in Winter Haven? With whom are you partnering?

BR: A major obstacle for people is meal prep and cooking clean foods, so we have partnered with SuperFit Foods to help overcome this obstacle. We also work with Polk Therapy and a local massage therapist, Prime Care Chiropractic. Our goal in building these relationships is to create a network of people all looking to improve the lives of Winter Haven residents.

WH: What do you think are the major parts of a healthy lifestyle? 

BR: Our bodies were created to move. Without movement we struggle with depression, fatigue, and dysfunction. 

There are three major components to a healthy lifestyle: movement, mindset, and nutrition. I believe it all starts with movement or activity. Mindset and behavior is the next major component. I had a mentor who once said the only difference between a homeless guy and a billionaire is their daily habits. The good news is, we can choose to change our habits. Nutrition is the last, but not, least part. I’ve always said you can’t out-train a bad diet. We believe in natural and whole foods. If it comes from a box, bag, can, or window, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

WH: What advice would you give to someone wanting to improve their health?

BR: Three things to anyone wanting to improve their health:

1) Move five to six times a week for at least 30 minutes. Notice I don’t say exercise. The goal is to begin with movement then progress. Gradual progressive overload is something they teach you in PT school.

2) Drink more water. The number-one trigger for daytime fatigue is some level of dehydration. You would be surprised at what will happen when you replace ALL liquids you are currently consuming with water.

3) Eat whole and natural foods. Focus on the foods found around the perimeter of the grocery store, on getting lean protein at every meal, and filling half your plate with greens. Notice I didn’t tell you what to take out. In my experience, adding the right stuff in will automatically help remove the wrong things. Focus on the positives, and you’ll see success.