Heard almost everywhere women over the age of 30 congregate: “I so need to get in shape,” “I’ve gained at least ten pounds,” “I should be at the gym right now.” There’s not a woman out there who doesn’t wish she were in better, or, at least, different shape. And while this eternal quest to have a body like any one of those desperate housewives may be a vanity thing, being fit is a health thing. As we all well know, regular exercise decreases the risk of almost every disease known to man.
The good news is that our area offers an abundance of options for those who want to get fit. But fitness regimens are not one-kind-fits-all, and choosing one can be overwhelming. Who wants to spend all of that time, not to mention money, sampling the endless variety of workouts until you find one that fits your personality and goals?
That’s where we come in. Whether you’re “too busy” to exercise or you simply hate the mere thought of breaking a sweat, we’ve got a few suggestions. Find the personality that sounds most like you, and see if you don’t come up with something new to try this year. That Wisteria Lane bod could be just around the bend.
TYPE 1 – “I just want to fit into my skinny jeans.”
You are the person who, above all, wants to shed body fat. Yes, yes, you should eat better and that would do the job. But if you can’t commit to a tectonic dietary shift that will trim those thighs, and you like the idea of getting fitter, choose an exercise that rates high on the calorie-burning meter. How can you tell? If it’s something that leaves you sweating and feeling slightly high, it probably fits the bill.
Government recommendations say that adults need sixty to ninety minutes of daily, moderate-intensity physical activity to “sustain” weight loss. Moderate intensity is defined as an amount of exertion that allows you to comfortably carry on a conversation. If you up your intensity to “vigorous,” defined as too winded to carry on a conversation, you can halve the amount of time spent and get the same benefit. Another way to gauge exercise intensity is to monitor your heart rate. Moderate-intensity exercise puts you at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, while vigorous intensity brings you to between 70 and 85 percent. (Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age.)
To lose a pound per week, you need to create a deficit of about 3,500 calories, which is best done through a combination of eating fewer of them and burning more. Running at a speed of 5 miles per hour for thirty minutes burns about 250 calories. (All calorie estimates are for a 135-pound woman unless otherwise noted) Doing that run six days a week, along with reducing your daily intake by about 300 calories, would have you losing a pound a week. Not into running? You’re not alone and, fortunately, lots of alternatives exist (see our suggestions above).
Building muscle is the best indirect way to lose fat. While aerobic activity will help you burn immediate calories, investing in a weight routine will help you burn fat over the long haul. Says Julie Migliaccio, owner of Evolution Sports & Fitness in Westport, “For every pound of muscle that lives on your body, you’ll burn an extra 50 calories a day. So if you gain five pounds of muscle, sitting on a couch you’re going to be burning 250 more calories a day than somebody who’s less muscular.”
Myth Buster – It is impossible to spot reduce; fat is burned only when your body uses it for fuel, and the question of where it comes off first is preordained by your genes. So focus on aerobic and weight-bearing activities.
Consider trying this new craze, known as “the third way to play tennis” (after singles and doubles), offered at Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton and other tennis clubs across the country. It requires little tennis skill but gets you running, dodging, hopping through foot ladders and hitting balls for an intense cardiovascular workout in an hour or less. This group class consists of a short warm-up, a forty-minute cardio workout that includes fast-paced drills, and a cool down phase. An hour of singles tennis burns about 500 calories, so you can expect to burn at least that much in cardio tennis. Your muscles, too, will feel the burn from whacking those balls and jumping around. For more information, go to cardiotennis.com.
Offered in both Norwalk and Fairfield, Bikram yoga –– developed by Bikram Choudhury, who still teaches all over the world –– is a very challenging series of twenty-six postures, or asanas, executed in a room that’s heated to 105 degrees. (Not for the faint of heart.) In the ninety-minute class you will burn about 600 calories. Check out bikramyoga.com for more information.
Salsa “Aerobics” Class
Gyms now offer Latin dance classes in addition to the usual lineup of step aerobics, kickboxing, flex, crunch, etc. Forget visions of Arthur Murray Dance School; this is dancing hard to loud music to get your heart rate up and work your body. “Our salsa class is probably the calorie burning equivalent of a step class (about 520 calories), power walking or light jogging,” says Brianna Ricks, director of group exercise for the seven Fitness Edge locations. These classes are not typically offered every day, so combine a once-a-week salsa sweat fest with two or three other equally vigorous one-hour cardio workouts per week and you can reach the one-pound-off-per-week goal. And you’ll have some spicy, new moves the next time you hit the dance floor.
If you’ve ever been drawn to the sight of those sleek shells gliding over the Saugatuck River, consider taking advantage of the fact that we have a world-class rowing facility and program in our midst. The program at the Saugatuck Rowing Club is run by Nicoleta Mantescu, who coached the Romanian rowing team to a gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics.
Rowing uses most of the major muscle groups, can burn 700 to 1,000 calories per hour (depending on weight and intensity level), and can be solitary or social — depending on the type of rowing you choose to pursue.
TYPE 2 – “Help! Someone has stolen my muscles.”
You are over forty (and fabulous), and your main goal is to build muscle mass –– maybe because formerly firm parts of your body jiggle a little more than you’d like, or perhaps because osteoporosis scares the daylights out of you.
Osteoporosis means “porous bones,” and weak bones break more easily. Half of all women over the age of 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime. It’s also what’s responsible for the stooped posture, or dowager’s hump, that some older women develop. Women begin to lose bone density in their late thirties and early forties but the process speeds up in the five to seven years following menopause, during which time women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass. Like muscles, bones get stronger when they are regularly called upon, which means resistance training and weight-bearing exercise.
“To increase muscle mass, you have to progressively and systematically train to a point where you overload or fatigue your muscle systems,” says Julie Migliaccio, owner of Evolution Sports & Fitness in Westport. “This has to be paired with proper nutrition. If you don’t have enough protein calories (the average person needs about one gram per day for every two pounds of body weight) coming in to repair the muscle, your body won’t build new muscle tissue.”
Perfect Timing – Studies show that the most effective time of day to work out is in the late afternoon when your muscles are warm and flexible and your strength is at its peak.
A truly off-the-beaten-track sport that uses your own body weight and builds muscle endurance is indoor climbing — and it’s one that’s geared toward women. “Women are great at climbing because they have lighter frames and they’re more flexible,” says Sean Matta, an instructor at Go Vertical, a climbing gym in Stamford. Climbing is a total-body workout that uses every muscle in your body from your toes to your fingertips. And because you climb with a partner whom you rely on for holding your ropes and keeping you safe, climbing is great for building trust –– shoring up a friendship, a date or even a marriage. The social aspect makes it fun, and means that you’re more likely to keep coming back. Once you’re comfortable on the manmade climbing walls, you can challenge yourself further by finding a guide and taking it outdoors. The end result? After a couple months, a stronger, more sculpted you.
Classic Gym Training
We’re talking basic weight training combined with cardio exercise — the tried-and-true method of toning up and trimming down. It’s been honed to a science now and if you stick to it, it works. Get help from a trainer in choosing a routine of weight machines and free weights that will work best for your body, and commit to three days a week for forty-five minutes. Calories burned: an average of 500 calories per session. Combine this with three days a week of one-hour cardio sessions on the machine of your choice (stair machine, treadmill, elliptical trainer or stationary bike), working at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, and you’ll burn another 2,500 calories or so. While the fat melts off, your muscles will reveal themselves and you’ll feel strong, buff and energized.
The Bar Method
Although it’s been overtaken by Pilates in recent years, many firm-fannied devotees still swear by the Bar Method. Maybe it’s the ballet bar, but these classes seem to infuse the air with a sense of strength, elegance and femininity. The exercises generally rely on your own body weight and include intense work at the bar on the thighs, glutes and hamstrings, using controlled movements performed to music. After the bar, a series of floor exercises finish you off with killer ab work. Three times a week for a few months will make you stronger, slimmer and maybe even “cut” like a ballerina.
There’s a reason why people are willing to pay trainers as much as they do some doctors. Trainers know anatomy and physiology and help make your body stronger safely and effectively, and they play the role of personal cheerleader. Left to our own devices, most of us under-train or over-train, use incorrect form and, ultimately, have trouble staying motivated. If you’re a beginner, a trainer will likely put you on a regimen of weight training for about twenty minutes twice a week and cardio training for thirty minutes three times a week. The great thing about having a trainer is that you have to show up for your appointments (or lose money) and there’s someone to track your progress — and tell you when your biceps have doubled in strength and you’re looking buff.
TYPE 3 – “I used to [fill in the exercise] all the time, but since my [shoulder, neck, knee, hip, ankle] injury, the only thing I can comfortably lift is the remote.”
At one time you were in great shape because you worked out a lot. But gravity, age and maybe klutziness conspired to result in an injury, which has left you with a body part that still aches — and not just when it rains. To get your physique in tune after an injury has thrown it out of whack, you need to focus on nonimpact activities that increase strength, flexibility and endurance without pounding on your joints.
Getting your body back in balance is key, says Steve Williams, an exercise physiologist and owner of Academy Pilates and U.S. Academy of Martial Arts in Westport. An injury often causes you to favor one side –– a slight limp or slump, for example –– to avoid using whatever part of you is weak or injured. This can mean that one set of muscles gets overworked and another gets underworked, creating an overall imbalance. With the right exercise, you can strengthen the muscles that have atrophied around your injured area, say good-bye to that incessant ache and end up with a stronger, more resilient body than you started with.
Yogi Martha – Martha Stewart violated her five-month-long house arrest by attending a yoga class. Her slap on the wrist was an additional three weeks of wearing the electronic ankle bracelet.
It’s not just for kids. In our area you can find adult instruction in karate, kung fu, tae kwon do, self-defense and other martial-arts- influenced classes. According to Williams, martial arts practice is good for people with past injuries because it’s generally non-impact and there tends to be a lot of focus on “core” strength — the abs, glutes and lower back –– and a stronger torso takes the pressure off overstressed limbs, joints and tendons. Depending on the class you take, it may or may not be much of an aerobic workout, but most of the local facilities have created classes that can stand in for gym workouts.
Pilates Mat Classes
Now that it’s trickled down from the likes of Oprah and Jennifer Aniston, Pilates is everywhere and, like yoga, can be a very different experience depending on the class you attend. The unifying features of Pilates are that the intense, highly controlled movements are largely focused on strengthening the core. It’s a no-impact workout that can be customized around old injuries and can give you back a toned physique.
For a fresh-air, out-of-the-box, low-impact yet highly aerobic workout, try strapping on a pair of snowshoes this winter. Snowshoeing on flat terrain will burn about 490 calories per hour, and according to some research, snowshoeing improves cardiovascular fitness more than running.
“Snowshoeing is the fastest growing outdoor sport,” says Parker Weintz, manager of Outdoor Sports Center in Wilton, “because there’s zero learning curve; you just put these; things on your feet and go.” Weintz says that last winter they sold hundreds of pairs of snowshoes, which range in cost from $150 to $250, and more often than not the customers were women. If walking is too sedate for you, they do sell special snowshoes made for running. Great local snowshoeing spots, according to Weintz: Devil’s Den, Aspetuck Reservoir and the Wilton Town Forest.
Exercising in the water can get you in shape in virtually all the same ways that exercising on land does, just in slow motion. When you’re submerged, the water cancels out about 90 percent of your body weight, which reduces stress on your joints, bones and muscles. But the weight of water also offers resistance, so it’s like an invisible weight machine. If swimming laps is not your thing, take a water exercise class (check the YMCA or any pools that offer swim classes) to learn techniques and experiment with props. You can then develop your own routine. Water aerobics burns about 250 calories per hour; jogging in the water can burn about 500 calories per hour.
TYPE 4 – “As long as I pack the kids’ lunches and lay out everyone’s clothes the night before, I can get up at 4:30 a.m. and fit in a 30-minute workout …”
You’re so busy you have been known to look in the mirror at 5 p.m. and find a schmear of toothpaste that’s been on your chin all day. Every now and then you think to yourself, “Oh yeah … exercise. I have to find a way to fit that in!” But that seems about as likely as fitting in a quick trek in Nepal.
In an unfair Catch-22, insanely busy people are the ones who need exercise the most. Since they’re unlikely to be taking care of themselves properly in other ways, they are often most vulnerable to the negative health effects of stress. The great thing about exercise is that, once it becomes part of your routine, its positive effects spill out into virtually every corner of your life. You sleep better, eat better, look better, have more energy, feel less stressed, get fewer colds — and on and on.
When you’re constantly strapped for time, the best exercise regimens are those that are: (a) hard to cancel or get out of; (b) enjoyable, and (c) quick. This might mean finding a friend who is willing to make a regular weekly exercise date, or it might mean signing up and paying for something in advance so that the penny-pincher in you won’t allow you to play hooky. Whatever it is, find it and commit. Your busy body will thank you.
Burn, Baby, Burn – Regular exercise increases your metabolic rate for about eight hours after each workout.
Who would have guessed the good, old stationary bike could be put on steroids and turned into a mega fitness trend? Spinning is the busy person’s workout because it gives you the most fitness bang for your allotted-time buck. In a forty-five minute spinning class, you can burn upwards of 650 calories, says Tim Taylor, general manager and co-owner of the Southport Racquet Club. That’s the exact equivalent of a grilled chicken sandwich and small fries at McDonald’s. Spinning is so big at his club that Taylor created a class he calls Pedal and Pump, high-intensity spinning that incorporates weights.
“I have twenty-four people waiting for me at the door at 5 a.m.,” he says, “and by 5:15, I’ve got forty people on the bikes and usually have to turn people away.” Once you get past the initial sore bottom issue, spinning can keep you in hard-body shape with a minimum of time spent.
Circuit or Interval Training
Curves for Women –– now the fastest growing franchise in U.S. history –– is a canary-in-a-coal-mine exercise phenomenon. These centers, which have popped up in almost every town, provide an in-and-out, thirty-minute circuit workout that is not overly strenuous and very social. The Curves regimen is the equivalent to the aerobic intensity of walking for four miles on a treadmill, according to the American Council on Exercise.
But quick circuit or interval training –– which involves moving from station to station, doing a certain number of reps at each –– is a great way to get a fast, total-body workout. Evolution Sports & Fitness in Westport offers a boot camp version in thirty minutes, and most fitness clubs and personal-training centers now offer some kind of circuit training.
Home Cardio Machines
A treadmill, elliptical trainer or stair-climber can be your ticket to hitting your target heart rate on a daily basis or it can be the most expensive clothing rack you’ll ever own. If you make the investment in one of these monsters –– or a rowing machine, a mini trampoline or stationary bike –– make the effort to ensure that you’ll actually use it. Hook up a small TV. Plug in a boom box. Get yourself towels and bottles of water. Make it your own little exercise heaven. Then buy some new Nikes and just do it.
Here’s the beginner, at-home drill, from Julie Migliaccio of Evolution Sports & Fitness: Once you’re in the groove with your thirty minutes, three-times-a-week cardio regimen, add twenty minutes of strength training twice a week. Do between ten and twenty-five push-ups, crunches and squats — using your own body weight only at first. Work to the point of muscle fatigue. When your fitness level begins to improve (in about four to eight weeks), you can add spikes of intensity to your cardio component and use weights or restricted rest time to crank up your strength training. This should be done progressively; increase intensity only in increments the body can tolerate. Don’t fall into the “more is better” mentality. Overtraining is worse than undertraining. Also, always warm up for five to ten minutes, using light movements that mimic the specific type of workout that will follow.
TYPE 5 – “Endorphins, schmorphins. I like to exercise as much as I like being on I-95 North … at rush hour … in the rain … during construction.”
If you simply loathe exercise, you need activities that are so fun and distracting that you forget you’re exercising. Though they rank low on the fun scale, scrubbing, sweeping, raking and weeding do count –– and every time you commit to a vigorous household project, you can say with confidence that you worked out that day.
For some exercise haters, a gym is still the best bet –– but it has to be a gym that draws you there for reasons other than state-of-the-art equipment and a convenient class schedule. If you’re a social butterfly, becoming a regular at a gym can be an extension of your social life. Tim Taylor, general manager and co-owner of the Southport Racquet Club, “is a very, very social place. We joke in here that it’s kind of like Cheers. People notice when you’re here and when you’re not.” And therein lies a crucial point for those who are not naturally motivated to go for the burn. If you join a place where everybody knows your name, you’ll go to mingle, network and feel a part of something — and practically by accident, you’ll get in a decent workout.
Housework(out) – Cooking burns about 200 calories an hour, gardening around 480 and cleaning approximately 300 (based on a 150-pound person)
At Westport Boxing & Martial Arts you can try out a genuine boxing workout with a pro, or take Sweatshop for Women, which includes mat work, isolation, definition, cardio, flexibility and core strength. One of the teachers is a Romanian and European rhythmic gymnastics champion. While intense the boxing classes are not intimidating — class size is kept small and the instructors are all about motivation. Chances are there will actually be a smile on your face as you punch, kick and sweat your way to a fitter you.
For lack of a better term, this is what we’re calling a new category of exercise class that seems to be the wave of the future. At virtually every fitness facility in our area, you will find classes that are blends of different modalities –– yoga, martial arts and Pilates; boxing and aerobics; dance, core training and relaxation; or personal training in a class setting. The permutations are potentially infinite. You can now get your daily dose of mind-body healing served up right alongside your cardio-pumping muscle burn, and you can bet none of it will look anything like a Jane Fonda video.
It’s happening everywhere but for the ultimate in fusion, non-exercise workouts, check out Chi Fitness, where they offer such blends as Chi Dance; Personal Training & Hypnotherapy; and Chi Writing & Tea.
The Great Outdoors
One great source of being-active-while-distracted are the woods, fields and mountains that surround us. To find outdoor adventure that’s already been organized and planned by someone else, go to the website for the Connecticut chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club (ct-amc.org). You’ll find opportunities for hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, kayaking and canoeing. Take a trip on your own and connect with your inner outdoorswoman, or bring the kids and make it a family outing.
There are a host of changes you can make that will significantly up your level of physical activity without writing a check or signing up for anything. You know some of these things already: give up elevators and escalators and commit to a lifetime of taking the stairs; make a habit of choosing the parking spot farthest from the door wherever you go; imagine a circle around your house with a two-mile radius and decide never to do anything but bike or walk to destinations inside that circle. There are other things you can do that require nothing more than a mental shift. Talk to a friend about committing to give up meeting for coffee or drinks for the next six months and instead make all your get-togethers physically active. Think of one sedentary family activity that happens every week, and turn it into a hike, walk, bike ride or game of tag in the backyard.
Curves of Westport
1460 Post Road East
Evolution Sports and Fitness
292 Post Road East
1300 Post Rd East
Westport; 20 Saugatuck Avenue, 454-3343
Fairfield; 665 Commerce Drive, 334-5505
1465 Post Road East
New York Sports Clubs of Westport
427 Post Road East
Southport Racquet Club
226 Old Post Road
Weston Racquet Club
405 Newtown Turnpike
Dynamic Martial Arts
606 Post Rd East
U.S. Academy of Martial Arts
1701 Post Road East
Westport Boxing & Martial Arts
1300 Post Road East
World Champion Tae Kwon Do
Fairfield; 709 Post Road
Westport; 91 Franklin Street
Darko’s Private Fitness Studio
7 Hitchcock Road
Kelly & Company One To One Fitness Studio
1555 Post Road East
Peak Personal Fitness
25 Sylvan Road South, Suite S
1701 Post Road East
Pilates on Center
53 Center Street
Pilates Studio of Fairfield
1559 Post Road
Pilates Training at Fitness Works
275 Post Road East
4 Easton Road
Ann S. Katz Yoga Center
15 Rockyfield Road
Arogya Holistic Healing
131 Post Road East
Bikram Yoga Norwalk
467 West Avenue
338 Commerce Drive
Symmetry Yoga Center
177 Post Road West
Yoga for Everybody
27 Unquowa Road
The Bar Method of Wilton
22 Center Street
3300 Post Road
Four Seasons Racquet Club at Wilton
589 Danbury Road
727 Canal Street
Saugatuck Rowing Club
521 Riverside Avenue