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Confessions of a former couch potato: a fitness reality story

Physical Activity and its benefits

The FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness recently organized a special effort to uncover the personal stories shaping their members lives. Interested individuals were invited to share a 500-word essay explaining how they have benefited physically, mentally or spiritually from their participation at a center.

Maintaining an exercise program isnít easy for everyone, says Program Manager Kari Garbark. This project enabled us to see how people overcame obstacles, committed to their program and now are seeing some unique results.

 Some people gained independence or mobility or were able to discontinue medication for high blood pressure.

SOUTHERN PINES Ė I am the quintessential couch potato, says Rosemary Read of Southern Pines. I do not like to get hot or sweaty, and since I was a small child, I have hated every form of organized physical activity. I was a fat baby, a fat child and a fat teenager.

At age 60, and after years of yo-yo dieting, the 5-foot-1-inch Read tipped the scales at 186 pounds. It was the heaviest I have ever been in my life, she says. Something drastic had to be done.

Readís story is not unlike that of many individuals across the mid-Carolinas. Hectic lifestyles lead to meals-on-the-go, and surfing the Web becomes the closest thing to recreational activity during a busy day. Unfortunately, the body reacts over time, and suddenly the person in the mirror may seem unrecognizable. Then what?

According to Cinnamon LeBlanc-Young, Manager of the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Southern Pines, Everyone needs to find the approach that works for them. There is not one simple formula. People need to be educated so that they can make wise choices.

In 2002, Read reluctantly decided to look for her solution at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness in Southern Pines. She was surprised by what she found.

She started to work out faithfully, taking advantage of the available fitness equipment Ė especially the treadmill.

I coped well on the treadmill, because I could be distracted from the exercise by watching TV Ė even though I hated the machines with a passion, she says.

After about six months, although she admits to feeling a lot better, she had not shed a single pound and was disheartened.

I find it very hard to get motivated, Read says. Working on my own was boring, and it didnít really seem to be making a difference.

Little by little, her motivation faltered, and she began to limit her workouts only to walking on the treadmill.

Thatís when the staff at the Center persuaded me to try a Pilates class, she says. I wasnít too sure about it, but I figured I didnít have anything to lose.

The Pilates form of exercise was developed during World War II, but has been used as a means of rehabilitating injured dancers, says LeBlanc-Young. It focuses on strength and flexibility. Many people see results from this form of conditioning, because it streamlines the body in a different way than the more traditional forms of exercise.

Pilates combines equipment and mat work and is often referred to as the thinking manís exercise. For Read, it was the perfect combination.

I have finally found something I like doing, she says. I am motivated by the instructor, and it is fun to meet the other class members and work together.

People are often surprised by the social benefits they find in exercise, says LeBlanc-Young. They develop relationships with others who are working toward similar goals. For many of our members, this support system is what keeps them motivated and working hard. Itís a special connection.

In addition to Pilates, the Southern Pines Health & Fitness Center offers a variety of organized classes including traditional aerobics, yoga, step, stretch clinics, dance and water aerobics. Members can also work out with personal trainers or independently on such equipment as Cybex strength-training machines, upright computerized bicycles, semi-recumbent bicycles, stair climbers, free weights and rowing machines.

The center also offers a pool, sauna and steam room and sponsors periodic nutrition and healthy living seminars.

Staying healthy involves more than simply exercising regularly, says LeBlanc-Young. Learning how to eat in a healthy manner and exploring new ideas and opportunities is essential. It all goes together. You have to work at not lacking in one area or another. Otherwise you canít reach your full potential and feel your best.

A former dancer, LeBlanc-Young has more than 25 years of experience in the field of fitness and holds certifications in aquatics, group exercise, yoga and personal training, as well as Pilates. She believes that staying fit involves connecting the whole person, and she works hard to stay abreast of new developments and trends in the wellness industry.

LeBlanc-Young encourages anyone who is interested in getting fit to shop around before selecting a fitness center or diet program. She recommends visiting the facilities that have programs of interest to get a feel for their environment.

You should ask about the training of the staff,she says. Are they certified? Does the facility have what you need or want such as a pool or child care? Always request a guest pass so you can really experience the center to determine whether or not you feel comfortable there.

FirstHealth has six Centers for Health and Fitness, which are located in Pinehurst, Rockingham, Raeford, Pembroke and Troy in addition to Southern Pines. Each facility is tailored to meet the needs of the communityís specific population.

Members of the flagship center in Pinehurst can use any of the facilities at any time. Members of the satellite centers can visit the Pinehurst location for a slight guest fee.

Getting started is the easy part, says LeBlanc-Young. Itís harder to stay committed. You just have to do it. Schedule it. Make it a priority.

Fitness does make a difference. Take another look at Rosemary Read. Today, she visits the center four times each week, attending Pilates, yoga and strength-training classes. She follows a strict diet and walks regularly. She has lost 25 pounds, and she has encouraged her husband, who has diabetes, to join as well.

Together, they are working out and feeling great.

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