Hearty routine

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Exercise helps build a healthy heart

By Stephen Lega

Sarah Martin runs 5Ks. She's completed P90X - twice.


But she doesn't like working out in a gym.

"I don't want people to see me exercising," Martin said.

Nevertheless, she has made exercise a priority in her life. Today, she runs and does the P90X ab ripper routine.

But she didn't start out as a fitness enthusiast. According to her, she was a couch potato for most of her life. After having three kids, she decided she wanted to get in shape. She found some old Denise Austin VHS tapes that had been collecting dust and decided to start walking. After walking, she started running for short distances, and eventually got to a point where she could run a 5K (3.1 miles).

Last summer, her husband recommended that they try P90X. Martin said she was open to the idea because she had been looking for something new to do.

"P90X is not for a couch potato," Martin said. "... It is for somebody who is already intent on working out and already interested in some of that stuff. If I hadn't been running and doing Denise Austin stuff before that, there would have been no way."

No matter how someone exercises, it is an important part of maintaining a healthy heart. It can also help to relieve stress (which can cause heart issues) and improve blood circulation throughout the body, according to Lucian Taylor, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion within the College of Education at the University of Kentucky.

Taylor has been a health educator for 36 years, but fitness has been important to him throughout his life. He played baseball and basketball as a student at Central City High School in Muhlenburg County, and he went on to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees at Western Kentucky University in physical education. Taylor also has a PhD in exercise science and leisure management from the University of Mississippi.

He does personal training and he is an aerobics instructor. While exercise has also been important to him, at age 59, he said he does it for preventative reasons.

"I'm trying to prevent taking pills. Heart problems run in my family. Diabetes runs in my family," Taylor said. "The best way to keep away from the doctor is to exercise."

Danny Marks is trying to pass along a similar message to the youth of Marion County. Marks is a physical education instructor at Lebanon Elementary School.

In addition to his regular P.E. classes, he is also leading an after-school program called Academy Girls. A group of nine fifth grade students from LES are participating in the program twice a week. The goal is to increase the program to three or four days a week as the weather gets warmer.

With the aid of music and aerobic equipment, Marks turns the stage in the gym at LES into a workout studio. He uses the program to educate the students about exercise and to promote healthy eating habits.

But the program is also about encouraging students to make a habit of exercising, and not just during the program. According to Marks, the participants can earn prizes for every five miles they walk during recess. Marks keeps track of their mileage with a display board affixed with gold stars.

"If I can just change one life ... it will all be worth it," Marks said.

As an example that the program may be working, some of the Academy Girls have discussed doing an exercise routine during a talent show that is being planned for the spring.

Marks hopes to keep the program going next year, too. His wish list includes treadmills and exercise bikes, but more importantly, a larger space would allow him to include more students in the program.

Of course, students aren't the only people who need to exercise.

According to Taylor, walking is one of the best ways for anyone to start a fitness routine. This is good for someone who has been a lifetime couch potato or someone who hasn't worked out in a while.

Taylor recommended starting a program similar to what Martin did. Walk a few times a week at first to get into the routine. After doing this for a month or two, consider adding another day of walking.

Someone who is interested in running, could then begin to alternate between walking and jogging. Eventually, they will build the stamina to jog throughout their workout.

"That's how I started and I've been jogging for 35 years," Taylor said. "I remember when I couldn't run a mile without getting tired."

As important as aerobic activities are, Taylor also said people should incorporate resistance training, such as lifting weights, into their routines.

But just as he recommended easing into cardiovascular activity with walking, he said people should start resistance training with light weights.

Too often, people injure themselves by trying to do too much, too soon, whether that is running before their body is ready or lifting weights that are too heavy for them to handle safely.

At the same time, any routine can become boring after a while. According to Taylor, more experienced exercisers may look for ways to vary their routine and keep it interesting. A runner may want to try a new challenge like P90X, as Martin did, or by taking an aerobics class, such as Zumba, which is now being offered at the Marion County Extension Office on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Jennifer Schuhmann leads the local Zumba classes. She started taking classes herself last summer, but she liked it so much that she attended the training to become a licensed instructor.

"I was an absolute beginner when I started last June," Schumann said. "I fell in love with it because it was fun."

Schuhmann said she probably practices routines for four to six hours each week in addition to the four hours she spends leading classes.

"Zumba is a dance, aerobics class where you basically work your whole body the whole time," Schuhmann said.

Casey Wilkerson and Beth Spalding have been taking Zumba since it was first offered last fall, and they encouraged anyone to join them.

"Come and try it out," Spalding said. "They won't regret it."

According to Wilkerson, she started taking Zumba because "it sounded like a party." She was certainly enjoying herself Thursday, based on her ever-present smile during the two hours she spent exercising.

Schuhmann said that she has received a lot of positive responses since she started the classes last fall. Many participants see the class as an opportunity to cut loose and have fun.

"It's better than a club," Schuhmann said. "You don't have to burn the calories from alcohol."

More than 60 people participated in the Zumba Thursday, some of whom took both classes. Schuhmann said the classes are structured in a way that newcomers are always welcome since new songs with new routines are always being introduced.

And for someone who hasn't been exercising that may be the encouragement they need. For some people, working out in a group helps keep them motivated. For others, like Martin, working out is something they prefer to do on their own.

Regardless, Taylor said the important thing is to get started.

"The main thing is to get out and do something," he said.

Editor's note: Vicki Bailey contributed to this story.


Getting started

Lucian Taylor, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion at the University of Kentucky, recommends easing into a routine.

Taylor suggested walking three times a week to start. After a month or two, add a fourth day of walking and add some light-weight resistance training to your routine.

As you continue to improve, consider alternating between walking and jogging. Eventually, you will build the stamina to jog throughout your workout, according to Taylor.

More experienced exercisers may be looking for ways to add variety to their routines.

Zumba classes are now being offered at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Marion County Extension Office. Anyone interested in the classes can either stop by a class or contact instructor Jennifer Schuhmann at jennifer9800@hotmail.com.

Those who work out at home, may want to consider a program like P90X (beachbody.com/P90X), although people who have completed P90X advise that this is for experienced exercisers, not beginners.

Lebanon Health and Fitness also offers a variety of workout equipment and hosts kickboxing and aerobic classes. For more information, call (270) 699-3240.