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Volume 16, Issue 1 ~ January 3 - January 9, 2008

This Year, Resolve to Find Fitness that Fits

Here’s how six Bay Weekly writers found their stride

If you’re counting better exercise habits among your New Year’s resolutions, you’ve got something in common with millions of Americans. And like many of those millions, your newfound resolution is unlikely to last as long as those leftover Christmas cookies.

Success comes when exercise becomes part of your routine — even a time you look forward to — not a tick off your to-do list or an impulse resolution.

Audition an exercise routine that fits your lifestyle, schedule and abilities with the same scrutiny as you try on jeans in a fitting room. Like jeans, fitness isn’t one size fits all. While some people love training for marathons, others would rather bike down a scenic path or shoot hoops in the driveway.

If you’ve got a bum knee, swimming might be your ticket. If you lack motivation, you might do well to join a kickboxing class or volleyball league, where camaraderie and accountability get you moving. Some say gym fees are enough to make you want to get your money’s worth. Others swear that getting a dog forces you to take daily walks. If you’re staying indoors, choose a Wii over a Playstation.

“People need to find something that they enjoy; if you don’t like it, you’re not going to do it,” advises Tara Taggart, health and fitness coordinator and professor at Anne Arundel Community College. “It’s a good idea to go to a gym and try out a bunch of different classes like yoga or a step class. Most people have heard about these different kinds of exercises but haven’t actually tried them.”

One common mistake of New Year’s exercisers is trying to do too much too fast, Taggart says. “In an ideal world, you’d be doing cardio five times a week, strength training twice a week and yoga class once a week.” Setting your expectations that high at the get-go sets you up for failure.

“You should start slow,” Taggart says. “Try to run once a week for a month, then slowly take it up to four times a week.”

To help make 2008 the year you keep your fitness resolution and find a routine that suits you, six writers share what worked for them — and what didn’t — in their evolving fitness strategy.

–Carrie Madren

Swapping my Rowing Machine for an Oar

by Susie Borchardt

I have rowed miles, burning countless calories, on the rowing machine at my gym without ever touching water. This summer, I tried the real thing with the West River Rowing Club in Shady Side.

It couldn’t be that hard, I thought. What’s the big deal?

The uncertainty of the water, the struggle to row in sync with other people and the burn your muscles feel when you’re rowing in rhythm at full speed is far more satisfying for me.

Peering off the side of a wobbly coxed four-person sweep boat changed my mind. Every motion affected this craft. If each rower didn’t catch, drive, finish and recover at the same time, we flirted with tipping. This sport was way different from the stagnant exercise I was accustomed to.

Rowing’s drastic departure from the stationary machine is a draw for scullers. It requires a whole team to move through water in a four-part stroke. Rowers not only get a great workout but also a chance to bond with a team and revel in calm morning waters.

I got to share those benefits when I visited my aunt, Frances Borchardt, who’s a member of the small West River Rowing Club, which exercises together every morning.

“I had this wonderful natural resource but didn’t use it other than appreciate it from land,” said Janet Beckner, who lives on the water in Deale Beach, founder of the club and owner of its boats.

Beckner got her inspiration at the Annapolis Rowing Club at St. Johns College, where she took lessons. Eager to continue, she placed the winning bid on a boat on eBay. A total of $1,686 bought her the boat, four oars and transportation from the Ohio high school where it sat unused.

To find three other scullers to get her boat moving, Beckner placed flyers throughout Deale. One caught the attention of V.K. Holtzendorf, who rowed her own single shell for 15 years and had taken a rowing class at the Annapolis Rowing Club.

Howard Greenhalgh and my aunt were also lured by Beckner’s flyers. Greenhalgh was attracted to rowing for the workout camaraderie; Borchardt wanted to try something new.

Sandy Haller, on the other hand came to the club when she read a newspaper story about Holtzendorf’s 19th century remodeled home and noticed the mentioning of a rowing club.

“Rowing was an interest of mine seven years ago when I bought an Alden sculling shell,” said Haller. “I couldn’t use it much at the time and wanted to revisit it,” said Haller.

The West River Rowing Club was born.

The foursome quickly realized that rowing on the open Bay, where Beckner’s home sits, would be nearly impossible. A rowing shell is designed for flat water. Calmer waters beckoned outside Holtzendorf’s West River home.

There, the group settled into a sunrise routine as rhythmic as their rowing.

“The concentration and balance that everyone has to contribute in order to properly row is remarkable,” says Borchardt. “The result is so rewarding and one of the reasons why I drag myself out of bed early mornings.”

Getting out of bed for me, however, is never an easy task. Yet the West River Rowing Club gets me up. Back at college, I find it difficult to return to the steady exercise of gym rowing with my iPod now that I have discovered what it feels like to do the real thing. The uncertainty of the water, the struggle to row in sync with other people and the burn your muscles feel when you’re rowing in rhythm at full speed is far more satisfying for me than the safety of the machine.

Training My Downward Dog

by Carrie Madren

Yoga reeled me in with its colorful, soft mats, comfy yoga pants, quiet strength and visions of sunrise salutations on the beach. Yes, sunrise.

I found all this and more, though sunset salutations are more my style.

Now, I marvel at what I can do that I couldn’t a few years ago. I can balance myself on my hands, with inner knees resting on upper arms in the crow pose.

When I started yoga a few years ago, I thought I’d be an instant pro. I’m thin, fairly flexible and in decent shape. Until I tried the forward bend. I could only graze my toes with my fingertips while classmates folded in half like envelop flaps. I knew I had room for improvement, and I enjoyed working toward a goal.

“Many people are surprised at how challenging it is,” says Lynn Matthews, co-director of Golden Heart Yoga. “They’re having to put bodies in positions they’ve maybe never put them in before.”

As with most other exercises, rewards come with practice. The more I take time to practice — 15-minute sessions here and there — the more I see myself getting stronger, more flexible, straighter and more balanced.

In yoga, we massage our spines and feet, lift our hearts and learn how to relax. It’s like getting permission to do nothing. And much to my joy, part of this fitness routine requires relaxing on the floor.

The key to making yoga part of your routine is enjoying it and its benefits.

I marvel at what I can do that I couldn’t a few years ago. I can balance myself on my hands, with inner knees resting on upper arms in the crow pose. I’m not strong enough yet for a proper yoga handstand, but I’m working on it.

Yoga is good for all ages, all abilities and all body types.

“We see a whole spectrum of people,” says Matthews, whose studio has taught workshops to help yogis get the most fitness and muscle value for their time in the time they have.

Yoga can be done in any amount of time you have and anywhere there’s space: in your living room, on the lawn or in a studio. If you’re sneaky, you can get in a discreet stretch or two at the office. I’ve even done extremely modified yoga in the passenger’s seat of the car on long road trips. I’ve done yoga in silence and jammin’ with Bob Marley.

Yoga is an exercise I’ve stuck with, but it’s not complete fitness. My New Year’s resolution is to find some cardiovascular movements to keep my heart in shape, too.

If you start yoga, I recommend taking a class — at the community center, a gym or a studio. Besides the fellowship of communing in the pretzel-legged cow-faced pose or a hip-stretching pigeon pose, you’ll learn how to keep your joints safe and get the most exercise for your effort in the process.

Finding Balance

by Dotty Holcomb Doherty

I have always been a multi-sport athlete. On afternoons and weekends through high school, college and into my first two decades of working, I was on an athletic field or in a gym, playing or coaching a varsity sport. Summers and vacations found me backpacking, bike touring and canoeing; winters I cross-country skied.

When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago, I had to change the rigor of my exercise program. Disabling fatigue forced me to stop teaching and coaching, but my desire to stay fit remained. Adjusting to a slower lifestyle has required some attitude changes, but what I miss in intensity I make up for in diversity.

Unpredictable energy levels rule out team sports and fixed schedules, so solo activities are now best for me. To keep fitness fun, I dabble in a variety of activities — horseshoes anyone? — but three have become part of my regular routine.

Besides giving me stronger arms, shoulders and stomach, kayaking lets me enjoy simply puttering along.

The first, kayaking, I’ve loved since moving to Annapolis nine years ago. Besides giving me stronger arms, shoulders and stomach, kayaking lets me enjoy puttering along the quiet creeks and edges of the Bay. Each season brings migrating birds to watch and different wildflowers to photograph. Knowing they are out there pulls me out of bed and into the boat — or for a walk in the wooded park next door.

Walking is the second part of my new routine. I never felt walking counted as real exercise unless I was traversing wilderness with a 40-pound backpack. But eight years ago, I decided that training for a 60-mile fundraising walk was a worthy challenge. I completed two for breast cancer before I was diagnosed with MS and switched my focus. I walked 31 miles in my third MS challenge walk last September, thrilled that I had the stamina to complete it.

Training is not easy. Some days I can only manage a weary half-mile, though other days I can walk a brisk two to five. I am learning patience — and to forgive myself when I have a slow day.

A competitive streak runs rampant in my soul, but I am finding peace with sauntering. I pay more attention to the natural world, and I enjoy the unexpected. I do not begrudge the speedy that pass me; I am happy to be out there and still walking. Too many with MS cannot.

I added yoga, the third part of my fitness routine, to my repertoire after I visited a friend’s class and saw not only the women’s flexibility and balance but also their strength. I wanted to be that strong. I tried several DVDs from the library and found a winner: Yoga Journal’s Yoga Step-by-Step DVD series with teacher Natasha Rizopoulos. Lessons and a 25-minute routine by a woman who did not talk down to her audience won me over.

My balance has improved, and I find myself standing straighter while waiting in line. I am gaining the core strength I admired in my friend.

For developing an exercise plan that works with and around my new condition, finding the right balance is key. Moderate exercise not only helps reduce fatigue but also bolsters my feelings of positive self worth. I do not know what each day will bring — which neurons may not fire, which parts of me may not work — but I plan to face the future with strength of body and spirit. It is no longer about speed or number of miles. It’s about not giving up.

Get Moving: Every Bit Helps

by Eileen Slovak

Some days I complain that I’ve got too much everyday work and chores for exercise. If you’re feeling the same, my solution may work for you. I make chores and tasks work for me by using them as exercise. I’ve even found out how to make exercise out of play.

Exercise requires physical activity that gets your heart rate up.

Bare minimum, there must be some sort of action. Even movements that don’t seem like exercise offer some benefits. A person on the couch watching television for one hour, (big surprise here) burns zero calories. However, standing up while watching television burns 14 calories per hour.

Make chores and tasks into exercise.

Whatever you do, you’ll earn a reward equal to the amount of energy you’re willing to expend. Back when humans had to hunt and forage for food, no one worried about gaining weight. Now we can drive to our food. Guess what: Driving doesn’t burn any calories.

The day I counted the hours I spend behind the wheel instead of upright and moving, I decided to find ways to add steps to my day and subtract inches from my waistline.

Of course, the amount of calories burned depends on the size and fitness of the person. The following figures are based on one hour of activity by a 150-pound person.

Your occupation may be keeping you fit. An hour of farming works off 204 calories if the activity is moderate, 476 if it’s vigorous. Loading and unloading all day, truck drivers dispatch 374 calories an hour. Double that for firefighters in action, burning 748. Unfortunately, general office work files away only 34 calories per hour.

There’s hope for office workers — if you use the stairs. Mounting stairs exerts 415 calories an hour. That number climbs as you increase your speed or your load, by carrying something or someone.

When the workday is through, there’s always work around the house. Walking your dog fetches 136 calories an hour, while giving Fido a long bath afterward soaks up 170 additional calories.

Painting inside wipes out 238 calories; add 44 calories per hour for exterior painting. Still have leaves in the gutters? Spend an hour cleaning them out and flush 272 calories in the process.

Or, my favorite, skip the housework and play with the kids. Chasing the children around the yard burns twice as many calories, 272, as heavy cleaning, 136.

Finally, when the snow begins to fall, you can earn your cookies and cocoa the old-fashioned way. Shoveling snow melts 340 calories per hour. Subtract a few calories if pushing a snow blower and blast away 238 calories an hour.

Spend an hour chopping wood for the fire and roast an additional 340 calories. Stack the logs and pile off another 272 calories an hour.

If Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle has won you over, you can make sport work for you. Fishing works off a surprising 204 calories an hour. Hunting large game knocks out 340 calories an hour.

The key is to get up and get going. On that note, I was distraught to find that writing whittles away as few calories as watching television, the big goose egg. So much for that leisure activity; I may have to take up fishing.

Exercising for Life — and May It Be Long

by Bill Wohlfeld

As a kid, I was determined to overcome the image of the 97-pound weakling, so I enlisted my four older brothers to help make me over into a modern-day Adonis. We couldn’t afford to buy fancy equipment, so we built our own weights by filling used paint cans with concrete, connecting them with a pipe and, voila, a set of weights. I was launched into my lifelong interest in fitness.

As a kid, I was determined to overcome the image of the 97-pound weakling.

My heroes became Charles Atlas, whose muscular physique adorned the back pages of comic books; Bernarr MacFadden, the father of physical culture; and Jack LaLanne, early pioneer of TV fitness programs, who is still pumping iron as a sprightly 92-year-old.

By chance back in 1950, I met LaLanne in the Washington YMCA. He was in town on business, and I was taking a workout during my lunch hour. I was pretty puny in comparison. He had muscles on muscles, self-made by sheer effort and sweat. That was before the drug culture of steroid enhancement. I was like a star-struck groupie actually fraternizing with my hero.

I’m not a kid anymore. Not many of us could ever look like Jack LaLanne with six-pack abs — especially as we become eligible to move to a senior-citizen community. It’s harder to match what you could do when younger, even though you have more time to exercise.

As a senior, I now try to retain strength and flexibility and to slow the aging process by adding more repetitions instead of increased weights. Go slowly as you build, or at least retain, your strength and endurance to safely avoid muscle soreness or injury. If you are hurting the next day, you’ve over done it. This cautionary note takes on more significance as we age and lose our youthful ability to spring back into shape.

The American Council on Exercise reports that muscle mass declines with age, resulting in decreased muscular strength and endurance. For each decade after the age of 25, 3.5 percent of muscle mass is lost. But there can be redemption.

“You’re never too old to get in shape,” advises John Glenn, World War II hero and astronaut — who took a second orbit in his 70s.

“This is verified by research,” adds Mary Lucas, exercise guru in Heritage Harbour, where the average age is about 75. “Studies show that, in the long term, older adults in all age groups hurt their health more by not exercising than by exercising.”

You “can maintain or at least partially restore four areas that are important for staying healthy and independent: strength, balance, flexibility and endurance,” she advises.

Even moderate levels of physical activity can help you keep strong, flexible and balanced, according to former Surgeon General David Satcher.

Assuming no medical problems, adults should exercise at least 30 minutes daily. You can get in that half-hour in 10- or 15-minute intervals. Elin Jones, Public Affairs Officer for Anne Arundel County’s Department of Health, recommends such simple daily chores as housework, using the stairs instead of the elevator or old-fashioned walking as ways to get your daily 30 minutes of exercise. To get sustainable benefits, you’ve got to make exercise a routine part of your lifestyle.

Your exercise can begin at home. But fitness centers can take you further. First, they’re a place you can combine exercise with social interaction. You’ve more motivation to exercise when it’s a social get-together with friends or a competitive event. Centers also help you extend your workout with new hi-tech machines that walk you through different exercises to safely maximize your benefits.

New-age equipment uses biomechanical design to avoid excessive strain on your joints. Another popular feature is the use of pneumatic pressure to control resistance instead of struggling with cumbersome plates and pins.

If you’re joining a fitness center, make sure it’s one that makes you comfortable. It makes no sense to join a facility that you won’t use because it’s too far away or parking is a problem. Visit at the time of day you would ordinarily work-out so you’ll get a feel for the place. Chat with the members. Are they happy with the management? What activities are offered? Are they scheduled at a convenient time for you? Is there an additional charge for them?

You don’t have to spend a fortune to find your fitness community. Recreational centers, senior centers, continued education programs and physical therapy centers often offer fitness training at little or no charge. Nowadays, homeowners or tenants have access to in-house fitness centers. Costs are incorporated into monthly association fees or tenants’ rents.

Here’s one more reason to exercise. Another fitness hero, actor-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says bodybuilding gave him a high. The feeling of well-being comes from the release of endorphins in the brain. You may not look as good as he does, but you’re never too old to feel as good as he does.

Regardless of what you choose to do, I highly recommend a publication of the National Institute on Aging, a freebie paid for by well-spent tax dollars. Phone 800-222-2225 and ask for NIH Publication No. 01-4258.

Failing: It Can Happen

by Margaret Tearman

As a college student in Southern California, I hit upon an idea for losing the freshman jiggle: backpacking.

While California is best known for its beaches, just a few hours east are the Sierra Nevadas, a beautiful, rugged mountain range with miles and miles of remote hiking trails.

The horrible reality usually dawned in the first two hours on the trail. More calories were burned by complaining than hiking.

I enjoyed walking, didn’t mind camping and loved being in the mountains. So I had a fitness plan.

In the 1970s, military surplus stores were all the rage. For a few dollars, which was about all I had, I geared up: heavy canvas backpack, heavy canvas tarp, heavy flannel sleeping bag, three heavy old canteens, heavy flashlight and heavy leather boots.

But for all my planning, I neglected one critical detail: I didn’t have a car, thus no way to get to the mountains.

But I had friends who had cars.

I begged, pleaded and made deals.

For those who gamely believed a weekend in the mountains would be a holiday, the horrible reality usually dawned in the first two hours on the trail. More calories were burned by complaining than hiking.

California’s summer sun is blazing hot, even at 8,000 feet. I promised reluctant friends cool dips in rushing mountain streams, like the ones featured on TV beer commercials. We never found those streams, and we had no beer.

The ground was hard and military surplus canvas smelled bad. Mountain lions were feared and rattlesnakes common. And, as my jumpy non-native hiking partners reminded me, the California state flag features a grizzly bear.

By summer’s end, there was no one left for me to bribe. My friends, united by their loathing of the weekends from hell, would see me coming, turn and run.

One loyal girlfriend made me a deal: Leave her out of it, and she’d just loan me her car.

By year’s end, out of pals, and with no discernable weight loss, I tossed out my backpack along with my fitness plan.

Eventually, assured of their safety, my friends came back to me.

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