The Future Looks Fit

YMCA launches local couple on a health and wellness journey

Sometimes you have to take the tools out of the tool box and put them to use.

Long-time Ocala residents Dan and Melissa Peterson had been members at the YMCA of Central Florida for years but hadn’t really taken advantage of all the Y has to offer. Committing to a health and wellness program in November 2018 was an eye-opener. The couple soon discovered there were far more tools at their disposal than they’d realized.

Melissa, managing editor at Ocala Style and Healthy Living magazines, and Dan, science teacher and administrator at The Cornerstone School, agreed to embark on a wellness adventure that they believe will improve the lives of their entire family.

Getting started was the hard part. Fortunately, they had help.

Health and wellness is a journey. A personal trainer can serve as a trusted guide through the challenging terrain of changing your lifestyle for the better. Heather Ferguson, a personal trainer at the Y, is also a group fitness instructor and wellness coach. Part of her job is taking people like Dan and Melissa under her wing, so to speak—something she does with enthusiasm, knowledge and experience.

“For the most part, anyone can achieve their health and weight loss goals, and that’s what excites me,” she says. “I tell my clients all the time, ‘I’ve got all the tools you need, but there’s one thing you have to bring that I cannot, and that’s the want to.’ You have to be passionately committed.”

Melissa’s Story

“I feel like our life is very typical of many families our age who have kids and both parents are working full time,” observes Melissa.

Although Melissa, 35, says weight loss is a primary goal, she’s looking beyond seeing numbers change on the scale.

“I want to have more physical stamina so I can be more active with my family. That’s my No. 1 goal,” she says. “We love to go camping in between our busy schedules, and when we do, I’m cautious about taking long hikes because I’m anxious that I won’t be able to keep up. I want to be active with my children rather than sitting on the sidelines. I don’t want them to think back on their childhood and remember all the fun things they did and me not be a part of that memory.”

Back when Dan and Melissa got married in 2007, they did Weight Watchers and went to the gym together. After their daughter, Delaney, 9, was born in 2009, Dan’s job had him traveling a great deal, but Melissa continued working out by herself. By the time their son, Lennon, 5, came along in 2013, family and work seemed to take up all her time.

“Before beginning personal training at the Y, between working at a desk all day and not making a lot of time for myself, I wasn’t very physically active at all; it’s just not something I made time for in between everything else we have going on.”

After she committed to the Y’s program this past fall, Melissa realized a lot of things needed changing but wisely knew she couldn’t make drastic changes all at once.

“I’m trying to make changes I can control, like taking in fewer calories by not eating fast food and cutting out soda,” says Melissa. “I’m all about routine with our hectic schedules, so making a plan for what I will eat each day and when we can fit workouts into our week has helped me avoid food temptations and kept me accountable.”

Starting to work out again was hard, but she’s found having a personal trainer is invaluable.

“At first, Heather taught us the basics of exercising—stretching, using proper form and doing exercises the right way to work the different parts of the body,” says Melissa. “I enjoy the YMCA because it’s an active environment for our entire family. It’s important for our kids to see us being active, to see us setting goals and trying to do better for our health.”

Delaney participates in cross country and track at school, runs 5Ks with the Big Hammock Race Series and also takes dance lessons, so she doesn’t do sports programs at the Y but enjoys the youth and teen center.

Lennon plays both soccer and basketball at the Y (Dan is usually his team’s coach) and hangs out in the child care center while his parents are working out.

Dan’s Story

When he taught at Belleview High School, Dan coached basketball and cross country, which made exercise a daily part of his work routine.

“Now I find myself behind a desk more,” says Dan, 37. “I’ve probably gained 20 to 30 pounds, so I’d like to lose that and see my fitness levels return to where they were.”

Dan and Delaney often run together, so he’s hoping the YMCA routine will help him be able to run farther and faster and would also like to be more flexible and have less joint stiffness. He also wants his children to live a healthy lifestyle.

When the Petersons first started working out with Heather at the Y, Dan was surprised at his lack of stamina.

“I’m more out of shape than I thought I was,” he admits. “None of the exercises are difficult on their own, but my muscle endurance isn’t what I thought it was.”

When it comes to food, Dan is working on reducing the amount he eats, sugar in particular.

“I’ve never been a big soda drinker, but a couple years ago, I mostly switched to seltzer water. The bubbly helps me stay away from soda,” he notes. “But I still have a couple sodas a month, usually when we go out to eat.”

Getting Started

Losing weight is a motivating factor for many people who start a workout program, but Heather says the focus should be on altering body composition and overall wellness.

“It’s not just about losing weight, because you can lose weight and still have the same percentage of body fat. When you have a higher percentage of body fat, this puts you at risk for many health issues,” Heather notes. “If you lose body fat, you will have better quality of life.”

Even though the focus is not just on losing weight, Heather says it’s important to take circumference measurements, weight and body fat percentage when starting a program. These assessments will give you something to compare as the program progresses.

Because Dan and Melissa both have the same key goals of lowering their percentage of body fat and increasing lean muscle mass, Heather set about creating workout programs with that in mind.

Although both Dan and Melissa are working on strength training and cardio and are even doing many of the same exercises, they have different fitness levels. Heather modifies the exercises so that each individual works at the intensity level that will deliver the best results.

She incorporates a variety of different fitness accessories, such as free weights, stability balls, medicine balls, TRX straps and kettle bells.

Although some people work out at home, Heather encourages them to do so at the gym most days of the week. The Petersons initially worked out with their personal trainer two evenings a week and then worked out at the Y on their own three other days, for a total of five workouts weekly.

Work It Out

“Included in everyone’s membership at the Y is our ‘Six Weeks to Success’ program that is like ‘Gym 101.’ You meet with a coach once a week for six weeks to learn the ins and outs of working out—stretching, machines, cardio, etc.,” notes Heather.

“I encourage people to go with the ‘Six Weeks to Success’ program and see what they learn, but if a client has very specific goals, I recommend going with a personal trainer,” explains Heather. “With a personal trainer, you’re going to get a customized program with the type of exercise and intensity level you need. You also have the accountability factor, because you have a trainer there pushing you to do one more rep, work a little harder.”

She points out that because so many of us develop certain postural positions from sitting at a desk all day, it can be difficult to get into the correct form to do the exercises safely. A personal trainer shows you the proper way to perform each exercise to get the most benefit.

“When someone trains with me three times a week, I’m going to give them a fresh program every time,” Heather notes. “Yes, we re-use exercises, but I don’t just use last week’s workout. I give them what’s best for them today. And I’m not just sitting in the corner telling you what to do! I do a lot of hands-on spotting to help a person do the exercise correctly.”

Diet Changes

Regular exercise is only part of the equation. Nutrition is also key. And although it’s common for people to try and totally revamp their diet all at once, Heather finds this usually sets them up for failure.

“It can be traumatizing and hard to continue,” she notes. “I’m a big fan of the ‘2 percent solution,’ which means making changes little by little and slowly over time. This way it never feels like you’re doing too much.”

Before any changes are made to a person’s diet, Heather has them document everything they eat. This immediately creates awareness about how much they’re actually eating. Technology can be a very useful tool in the quest for health. Heather recommends her clients use the MyFitnessPal app.

“I use it to track everything I eat, and knowing my trainer is watching what I’m eating helps with accountability,” says Melissa. “It syncs with my Apple Watch, so it knows how many steps I take and factors that in with calorie intake.”

The app allows Dan and Melissa to share their food diaries with Heather without writing it down on paper. The app is versatile in that it includes most restaurants and also lets the user scan bar codes of packaged foods.

Seeing what a person is eating allows Heather to spot red flags right away so she can suggest nutritional changes.

“Beverages are the No. 1 culprit every time,” she notes. “People don’t realize how many calories they’re taking in with beverages alone. Most people tend to underestimate how much they eat and overestimate their activity level.”

Heather likes using the app rather than expecting Melissa and Dan to “keep each other in line” when it comes to food.

“It’s difficult for a husband and wife to be accountable to each other,” she says. “There’s an emotional component to diet, and it can cause a lot of problems when they get on each other about what they’re eating.”

When anyone is trying to change their diet, Heather says it’s important to understand actual serving sizes. She adds that proper hydration cannot be overlooked.

“A lot of people think they’re hungry, but they’re actually thirsty, because they’re not drinking enough water. Once you’re fully hydrated, you may realize you’re not as hungry as you thought you were,” notes Heather.

Although eating healthier is not necessarily about restricting calories, calories do matter.

To lose one pound you need to burn off 3,500 more calories than you take in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cutting out 500 calories per day to lose one pound per week. To lose two pounds per week, cut out 500 calories per day and add physical activity to burn an additional 500 calories a day.

Heather recommends as a resource for making smarter nutritional decisions.

“People are always looking for a magical answer, but a lot of this is common sense and about making good choices,” says Heather.

Author’s Note: Follow Dan and Melissa on their wellness journey as we check back in upcoming issues.

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