Health and Fitness: Remember when recess was your favorite subject?

ANASTASIA LOPER PHOTO | Zumba with fitness instructor Jill Schroeder at Southold Elementary School. Click to see video

Laurel and Hardy, peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, fun and fitness — whoa, wait a second! Fun AND fitness? No way, you say. Can children and adults really get fit while having fun? You bet! While many of us are toiling away on the elliptical machine, pounding on the treadmill, peddling to nowhere on the stationary bike, jumping for joy in an aerobics class or jogging in the early morning light (all great ways to exercise, by the way), many other exercisers are getting fit in more unusual and, quite possibly, more fun ways.

You don’t have to bypass the gym, most of which offer personalized training and an array of classes to try. But why not mix it up? Also try some of the offerings at libraries and recreation centers and dance, martial arts and fitness studios. And let’s not forget your own backyard, neighborhood parks and trails and even your TV — with your pick of fitness channels, exercise DVDs, Wii Fit and other video fitness games for all ages. The choice is yours.

Why Exercise?
But why exercise at all? And who cares if it’s fun; just get the job done, right? To some extent. But sometimes just adding something new and different to our routine sparks a renewal of energy and gets us out of our exercise rut.

Nancy Kouris of Planet Fitness says: “The best thing you can do for yourself is regular exercise. For a small investment of time and effort, you can sleep better, manage your weight and have more energy to do the things you enjoy. As an extra bonus, you’ll improve the way you look and feel about yourself. And when you feel good about yourself, all kinds of good things happen. Your confidence goes up, you can handle everyday stressors much more easily and you even may find your sex life improves.

“Exercise can help with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and high blood lipids, sometimes allowing exercisers to reduce or eliminate their medications,” Ms. Kouris continues. “Regular strength workouts help maintain muscle, which starts to diminish at age 25. As we age, we lose our strength, power and flexibility, so add in regular stretching.

“The big question is always how much exercise do I need?,” she adds. “General guidelines for healthy adults are to get at least 30 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise three to five days per week. You should break a sweat and get your heart rate up, but still be able to talk. Add in two weekly strength workouts with at least 10 exercises to hit all the major muscle groups, finish with 10 to 15 minutes of stretching, and you’ll be on your way to better health and vitality.”

For those trying to lose weight, Ms. Kouris advises: “You may need up to 60 minutes of exercise four to six times per week. As always, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Seek out help from fitness professionals if and when you need it. They will show you correct form, give exercise suggestions and help you make your way around the fitness facility.”

Getting children involved in exercise is vital. Terry Walker at Fun-N-Fitness, a Southold exercise studio for children and adults, says: “Adults, and especially parents, need to be positive role models for children when it comes to exercise, lifestyle and proper nutrition. Children will mimic the eating and exercise patterns of those around them. Exercise for children plays an essential part in the growth and development stages. When children get plenty of exercise, studies have shown they do better in school, are more confident and are less likely to be involved in drugs or alcohol even later in life.”

Ken Reeves, recreation supervisor of the Southold Town Recreation Department, points out: “Recreation opportunities are a part of the underlying fabric of a community. They give groups, families and individuals the wholesome places and activities that are key to a true sense of community. We are always looking for new programs and activities to offer our town residents and encourage potential instructors to contact the recreation department. Participants benefit in a number of ways from these exercise programs, including, but not limited to: Improving health and wellness, building self-esteem, reducing stress, providing opportunities for learning and living a more balanced, productive life and having the chance to socialize and meet new people.”

The New Face of Fitness
Enjoying fitness is the key to keeping exercise a part of your life.

And just what are some fun and different ways to work exercise into your day?

Among the offerings from Southold Town Recreation Department:
• Hula Hooping. A low-impact way to shape and tone; strengthens the body’s core muscles and enhances cardiovascular health.
• International Folk Dancing. Learn folk dances from England, Ireland, Greece, Poland, Russia and Israel while getting a great workout.
• Belly Dancing. Reduce stress and rejoice in your feminine self through this ancient art. Learn the basics of Middle Eastern dance while working every part of your body.
Included among the many Town of Riverhead Recreation Department offerings:
• Hip-Hop Dance. Dance to the modern hip-hop beat!
• Mommy and Me Fitness. Moms enjoy a floor Pilates class while the kids enjoy a light cardio-mix workout, finished with fun on the silks. Get a great workout while teaching your kids the value of exercise and health.
• Mommy and Me Yoga. Nurturing the bond between parent and child while increasing physical activity and releasing stress with new techniques.

Ancient Art Forms

Then there are the ancient art forms of yoga, tai chi and qi gong. Denise Gillies, who offers tai chi and qi gong classes at several locations, notes: “This is an ancient form of Chinese exercise that combines fluid movement, visualization and meditation to activate self-healing properties. This practice is beneficial for all ages and levels of physical fitness. It promotes an overall sense of well being and inner peace through reducing stress, strengthening the immune system and improving mental focus and concentration. Qi gong combines deep breathing techniques with easy-to-follow movements and a series of flowing tai chi forms. I believe this practice would be very beneficial for teenagers and a very positive experience for parents and children to share.”

Lynne Wentworth, who teaches yoga at Eastern Sun Holistic Health in Southold and Mary H. Smith Recreation Center in Greenport, says: “Wonderful yoga is a practice adaptable to all ages. Both young and mature students benefit from the conscious breathing exercises that form the foundation of yoga practice. Children are intrigued by the animal-pose names and find a special joy in doing the pretzel-shaped postures. Adults are grateful for the centering, mind-calming effects of yoga’s flowing and dance-like, slow-motion movements. The elderly especially benefit from the balancing poses, which help to increase strength, stability and confidence. Everyone finds satisfaction in meditation, which creates a feeling of ‘coming home’ to experience a deep sense of inner peace.”

Aerial Fitness and So Much More
You won’t find any old, bulky equipment at Aerial Fitness in Riverhead. April Yakaboski, owner and instructor, says, “Women find the classes here motivating and personalized. They all bond with each other, share experiences and motivate each other. The studio is filled with great energy and positive attitudes.” Ms. Yakaboski started with hot yoga, advanced to TRX and has added hot pilates.

Classes such as TRX suspension training, developed by the navy seals, are the most popular year-round. It challenges your body in ways equipment never can, giving you results almost immediately. The winter favorite is hot yoga. Practicing yoga in this 105 degree heated room allows for deeper stretches and length in muscles.  It feels great and the benefits are endless. Aerial yoga is another favorite. “I love the aerial yoga, I feel fantastic with no aches or pains that I previously had from arthritis and lymes disease,” says member Luan Fuhs. Other class favorites are:  aerial fit, Bosu step, bootcamp, cardio kickboxing, aerial meditation and seasonal workshops such as Zumba and Sexy Fit Classes for Women.

Dance the Night Away
Dancing is a unique form of exercise because it provides the heart-healthy benefits of aerobic exercise while also allowing you to engage in a social activity. A combination of physical activity, social interaction and mental stimulation, dancing enhances your life in so many ways. Whether it be ballroom dancing — fox trot, waltz, swing, rumba, cha-cha, tango, etc. — or other forms of dance, dancing has a way of brightening one’s day.

Karissa Reese Despres of North Fork Academy of Dance in Cutchogue says: “Dance is one of the most normal forms of exercise; all over the world, people are dancing. Not only is dance a fun form of exercise but it’s great for cardio and strength training. It keeps kids moving and excited about different forms of art. Hip-hop has gotten really popular and the boys love coming to class. Our class is challenging, fun — and boy, do we sweat!”

Why not try tap dancing, a popular activity for both adults and children? Gail Benevente and Adam Baranello of A&G Dance Company say: “Tap dance is terrific for the body because of its intricate steps that requires stabilizer muscles to work, as well as your legs and core. Once you get moving, it also becomes cardiovascular. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, it’s a great way to exercise! It also keeps your mind sharp. You have to tap on beat, remember a lot of technique, and it challenges your coordination as well as memory. It’s beneficial for children and adults for all of these reasons.”

Alfonso Triggiani, director of Touch Dancing Studio and dance director for the “Shall We Dance” program offered by the Southold Town Recreation Department, promotes ballroom dancing as a fun way for singles and couples to keep fit. Noted as a “champion of real dancing for real people,” Mr. Triggiani asks what could be more fun than learning the Argentine tango, hustle, disco and Latin-style dance.

One of the hottest new crazes offered throughout the North Fork is Zumba (see video). Jill Schroeder, a certified personal trainer who became licensed to teach Zumba three years ago, says: “Zumba is a Latin-inspired dance-fitness class that incorporates international music and dance-fitness movements. What you can expect in my class is an hour of heart-pumping music, calorie-burning moves and a party-like atmosphere. The energy that fills the room is exhilarating. So many people have told me that they hated to work out or were bored by their current fitness routine, but because of Zumba, they have begun exercising again and feeling better about themselves.

“Zumba is truly a different way to work out,” Ms. Schroeder adds. “The blend of music, cardio and strength-training elements never leaves a dull moment. If you look around the room, everyone is smiling, sweating and burning some major calories. What’s great about Zumba is that you can make it your own, or modify steps if need be. Everyone is different and Zumba gives you that freedom to bring your workout to a level that’s comfortable for you. So, if you need to keep it low impact you can, or if you want to go all out, you can. There’s no limit to Zumba!”

There are many other ways to work exercise into your life. Check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program; listen to your body; and however and wherever you decide to exercise, remember to mix it up, crank up the music and to have fun!

Editor’s note: The annual Health and Fitness guide will be included as a supplement in the Jan. 6 issue of The Suffolk Times. This story will be featured in that supplement.