Chief’s Challenge

It’s a funny thing…Westchester’s finest spend their time protecting us, keeping us safe and healthy, but often don’t pay attention to their own well being. Enter Dr. Franklin Zimmerman and Club Fit, who in January 2013, joined forces to start the “Chief’s Challenge”, an incentive program designed to improve the health and wellness of active police officers, firefighters and EMTs in Westchester and surrounding counties.

One person in particular took notice of the program and decided to take on the challenge. John Marcel, a volunteer fireman at the Briarcliff Fire Department and Club Fit member for more than 20 years, exceeded everyone’s expectations and clocked more time in at the club than any other participant. The fire department and police department with the highest average club usage was awarded $500 each, and the department with the highest average number of visits at the end of a year will receive a $1,000 donation.

Yes, fitness was already part of John’s daily routine, but he saw this program as an opportunity to raise the bar for himself, and encourage his fellow firefighters to get in shape. “Being able to see some of the guys that were not in good shape, create a habit by coming to the club, and eventually sticking to it and keeping healthy was rewarding”.  A financial advisor by day and volunteer firefighter in his spare time, at the age of 60, John maintains a rigorous lifestyle and feels that his attention to fitness helps him maintain that pace. He took up running many years ago on the advice of a colleague, and he went so far as running marathons. He currently uses Club Fit’s Fitness Center, indoor track and weight area on a daily basis, and has been encouraging his colleagues at the firehouse, a diverse group including executives and medical professionals, to take advantage of the Chief’s Challenge.

“I find that most people want to look good and feel good, but are missing the discipline to reach their goals,” says John. “Emergency personnel in particular should be in top shape because the work we do can be extremely strenuous. I’ve encouraged others at the firehouse to follow my lead, and I’ve seen some of them make tremendous progress.” One reason he sees for their success is that Club Fit is set up to serve people at all levels, even novices. Everyone is welcomed and gets the proper instruction and encouragement.

“My family and I have been Club Fit members for so long, and the Chief’s Challenge was a no-brainer once I realized that, even as an existing member, I was eligible,” he says. “It’s not such an easy decision for some of my counterparts, but the membership incentive is usually enough for them togive it a try.” And just giving it a try has opened the door to good health for many. Kudos to all who accept the challenge!

How I Learned to Run (Again)

Here's me, running on a treadmill. Words I thought I'd never say!

So… remember that time I said I hated running?  I never, ever thought this photo (left) would happen.  It’s still true that I do not enjoy extended running as general cardio exercise, but my trainer introduced me to interval workouts called Tabata training.  They let me run for only four minutes, with frequent rests, and still gets my heart rate up to where it needs to be.

Jenn explained to me that the varying intervals of activity and rest make your heart work harder, and boost your heart rate faster.  I run for twenty seconds, then rest for ten seconds, and repeat these cycles until I’ve finished four minutes – and by then, I am wiped out!  This is perfect for me, because twenty seconds seems to be my exact tolerance for running on a treadmill.  I can even use these Tabata intervals during strength training workouts to keep my heart rate up, and accomplish cardio and strength work at the same time.  Intervals also create “afterburn”, which boosts your metabolic rate for a period of time after you finish working out.  Talk about efficiency!

The best part about these workouts is that I really can feel a measurable increase in my cardiovascular endurance.  I can tell that they’re working, because each week, it gets a little easier (or should I say, I get better?)  It’s a great reminder that my body is totally capable of performing whatever I train it to do – I just need to put the work in.

My Superhero Diet: Plant Power!

Homemade salad pizza. This is my life now - and it's delicious!

Like many of us, I have experimented with fad diets.  When you get swept up in large promises based on “new research”, it’s hard to remember that the one thing they all have in common is that they don’t work, or are only a temporary solution, and in some cases – dangerously unhealthy.  The disclaimer to “consult your physician” before beginning any diet or exercise program is serious business – but like many people, I never bothered.  Ten years ago, I fell for the fat-free fad, and ended up with some serious adverse health effects.  That was a wake-up call for me, and I knew that to start any weight-loss journey off on the right foot, I had to follow directions, and make an appointment with my doctor.

When I met with my physician, I laid it all out on the table.  I told her that my goal was to slowly and sustainably lose all of the extra weight I’m carrying, to prevent disease, and to be an active participant in my health, which meant I was looking for a manageable long-term eating plan.  She did a lot of research on my goals, my past conditions, and delivered a plan: no animal fats, no soy, no processed food, and no sugar.

Wow!  Four little “no”s that wiped out a lot of items.  Even the frozen veggie burger patties that I considered healthy alternatives were full of soy, and the ones that were soy-free are still heavily processed.  Most people are shocked when I tell them my diet, and ask me what on earth is possibly left to eat.  I tell them, lots!  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts – it doesn’t sound like much, but the possibilities are endless when you are informed and prepared.

Like any other major lifestyle changes, this diet requires a lot of planning to adhere to, and it really took me a number of months to find my groove.  Since I’m highly active, I have to count my protein intake carefully to make sure I’m getting what my body needs without packing in too many calories that might deter my weight loss efforts.  I have to have a well-stocked pantry, and shop frequently for fresh produce (which is a joy at this time of year), in order to be able to throw a meal together on the fly.  Sitting down once a week, browsing vegan recipes for inspiration, and making a specific shopping list help me keep from feeling lost for inspiration, and there are still some delicious and easy meals that are fast to make – like my homemade salad pizza pictured above.  It’s my favorite quick meal.

One thing is for certain – this diet is not for everyone.  I hope that you will learn from my past mistakes and speak with a doctor you trust (who knows your health history), if you are considering making any major changes to your diet.  That being said, it’s definitely healthy to indulge in a plant-based meal once in a while, and now that vegan diets are increasing in popularity, it’s easy to find inspiration.  Here is my favorite veggie burger recipe (homemade, not processed) from the Candle Cafe in NYC.  It’s fast, delicious, and family-friendly – I hope you enjoy it!

Do you have a favorite plant-based meal to share?