New Year…New You

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Published: December 17,2007

It’s that time of year again when people on average have gained seven pounds during the holidays and people are thinking about a New Year’s resolution to exercise more and lose weight. But how many folks actually keep those resolutions?

Wink Collins, general manager of the Highland Health Club, Natchez, said each January it has approximately 100 people join the club.

“If we have 30 who stick with it, we’re lucky,” Collins said. “A lot of people have good intentions and will join. But then they will find a lot of reasons to not come. The biggest battle that you have is pulling up in our parking lot. Once you get there, you are going to work out. You don’t come here to buy a shirt or shoes. You come to work out. We can help you do it and tell you why you should do.”

Lifelong commitment

Collins said the first thing you have to do is make up your mind up that regular exercise is what you want to do, and not just for a week or a month but for the rest of your life. The gym has fitness experts who will help custom design a program for you to meet your goals. There are many different types of machines including weight machines, treadmills, elliptical trainers, and bicycles.

“All of these you can use to get to the goal you want to set,” Collins said. “But you really have to make your mind up that is what you want to do for your own health. In my opinion, it is the cheapest health insurance you can buy.”

One thing that can help people stick with an exercise program is using the whirlpool and/or steam room. That isn’t just a matter of some relaxing time in the water as a reward for working out. Collins said they can also help you lose weight, retain good skin texture, and — very important — prevent you from getting sore from the workout.

“It will reduce the soreness and help the muscles not be as sore and tight as if you didn’t,” he said. “That is why people use the whirlpool and steam room a lot.”

Another tip is to find the exercise you most enjoy. For Collins, it is racquetball, which he has been playing since the sport was invented.

“There are several things I enjoy doing,” Collins said. “I don’t do things I don’t enjoy. I like to play racquetball. I’ve been in it a long time. I started playing racquetball back when it was handball and you didn’t have a racquet. I’m still active and put people on programs, but I’m 83 years old in January. I’m still active and feel good.”

For people who stick with it, the results can be dramatic. Collins has noticed that often when newcomers start coming in, they look and act like “a Russian peasant.” They don’t dress well, and may have poor posture. They seem uncomfortable and don’t talk very much with other people while exercising.

“After they have worked out for a period of time, they straighten up, their head is forward, they look directly into your eyes, they dress better, and they carry on a conversation,” Collins said. “Their whole attitude has changed since the first time they came in the door. It makes people more self assured. It makes you feel good about your own body, and you convey this message to other people.”

A common mistake is trying to do too much at the beginning. It is better to start out slow, and gradually build up. Trying to do too much to start with can be a prescription for burnout.

“I would suggest start slow,” said Tony James, fitness coordinator, Baptist Healthplex, Jackson. “Don’t go in thinking you are going to do everything in the first week. Gradually get into it. Don’t get overwhelmed in the beginning. Get with a trainer. Spread it out so you may learn phases of exercise. Learn the cardiovascular part the first week or two. The third week, add flexibility exercises. The fourth week, start weight training. The fifth and sixth week, put it all together: cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility.”

If you do too much, you will hit a point where your body will be sore and tired. You will skip a couple days and, before you know it, you have missed a week or two and have to start over again.

“Gradually get your body ready for it,” James said. “You have time to get to where you need to be.”

Busy business people can find it difficult to find the time to exercise. It may help to break up the exercise instead of thinking you need a long block of time to do it all. For example, James recommends using your lunch hour to walk for 30 minutes or do other aerobic exercise. Then, after work, do your weight training. That doesn’t have to be at the gym. You can use dumbbells at home, and combine them with such pushups, squats and abdominal exercises.

If you have knee problems or any joint pain, he suggests low impact exercises like elliptical training or walking. He also enjoys playing on sports teams. He plays softball, flag football and basketball.

“I play league sports and that takes up my workout time,” James said. “I go home and I have my treadmill and different things I can do for weight training in the evening.”

Watch those portions

Losing weight is often a primary goal for people starting exercise programs. James recommends being very vigilant around the holidays to not overeat because it does take time to take it off.

“Watch your portions,” he recommends. “Try to spread meals out. Don’t eat tons of food in one setting. Eat smaller meals during the day. Spread it out and eat every three or four hours. Drink a lot of water so you won’t feel as hungry. Breakfast is very important. Don’t skip meals because then you tend to overeat at the next meal.”

The more muscle on your body, the easier it is to burn calories, said Melissa Brewer, membership and wellness director, for the Clinton Family YMCA.

“The average person usually gains about seven pounds during the holidays, so a lot of times that will encourage people to get in the gym the first of the year and get moving,” Brewer said. “We recommend cardiovascular exercise three to five times a week for 20 to 60 minutes doing anything that gets your heart rate up. We also recommend strength training for two to three times per week. When someone joins our facility, we bring them in and talk about their fitness goals, and then we put them on a fitness program to meet their goals. We start from the basics. We show them how to use the equipment. That is free with their membership. After someone does something 15 times, it becomes a habit. We encourage them to keep coming, participate in group fitness classes, and create a habit that will help them the rest of their lives.”

Ask for help

When people come to a gym without getting help from a trainer, they can easily get discouraged and quit. She advises letting someone help you develop a program. And, after a few months, get help again to revise the program.

“Once your body does the same exercise again and again, it gets really good at it,” Brewer said. “It stops being a challenge. You need to constantly challenge yourself when exercising. Stop doing just the same exercises over and over. A lack of results is why people stop. That is why we want to meet with them every couple of weeks. We ask them how it is going. How can we change your workout? For example, people who just do the steps aerobics class for couple years after a while won’t get the same results. They may need to do water aerobics, elliptical machines or a cycling class that helps them start improving again.”

But tweaking a plan for someone who has made exercise a regular habit is only a minor consideration.

“The hardest part is for them to get in the door,” Brewer said. “After they get in the door, we will help. People need to get moving. Everything has gotten so easy we sit on the couch and don’t do a lot.”

Brewer’s biggest motivation to exercise is as a stress reliever.

“I have to exercise to relieve stress,” she said. “I have two children, a husband and a full-time job. I do Pilates. Pilates is my favorite thing. It strengthens your entire body but focuses on your core. It helps keep you strong and flexible. I like to combine Pilates and running. I also do water aerobics. I just mix it up. If all you do is run, it is easy to get bored. The idea of combining cardio and strength is a good way to work out.”

The YMCA also has a popular program called Silver Sneakers for senior citizens. Brewer said one person who comes in is 94, but acts more like a 60 year old.

“It is amazing how healthy people are when they exercise regularly,” Brewer said. “That is what I want to do. I want to be 94 and still driving to the YMCA and living on my own. I have members who will stop coming for a few months and it is amazing how they will come in just dragging. Then they start exercising again and you can see how much better they feel. That is another great thing about the YMCA. We have 94 year olds and two year olds. We have a ‘romp and stomp’ class for two to six year olds. We introduce them to fitness, and it teaches them the importance of moving.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.

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