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Natural Awakenings Dallas -Fort Worth Metroplex Edition


A New Year in Health and Fitness

2023 marks the first full year after the pandemic when everything is open and we are resuming our former lives. Many people are returning to the gym, taking group exercise classes, swimming laps at the community center and playing pickle ball at an indoor court. We rise out of the COVID-19 devastation with renewed purpose. Here is a glimpse at how two fitness experts in North Texas are approaching the "new normal", as people seek to fulfill their New Year's resolution of finally getting fit.

At the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center (AFJCC), social interactions and family-friendly activities take center stage. "When you're surrounded by other people, the social aspect is what keeps people coming back," says Daniel Taylor, general manager of sports, fitness and wellness. "For a lot of people, this is one of their few social outlets; that's a huge driver right now as people were so isolated, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. The social piece is important at any age, even more so for our senior population. They had very little social contact, and coming back for classes or for lunch or programming is huge."

New to the AFJCC, all clients have an opportunity to meet with fitness experts to evaluate goals and prescribe the best approach to reaching them. The idea is to set specific, attainable, measurable and time-restricted objectives and benchmarks, as opposed to a general, vague notion of spending 30 minutes on the treadmill.

"People don't often think outside of the box. We go to what's comfortable, and we don't want to challenge ourselves with anything new," Taylor says. In addition to structure, the experts will prescribe variety—perhaps adding a yoga class or aqua fitness—to combat boredom and work on different muscle groups, two surefire ways to improve motivation and jumpstart results. Shorter-length classes for smaller fitness bites are also being added.

Some AFJCC measures adopted during the pandemic will remain long-term, including virtual class offerings for people that are traveling or shy about group settings, and a dedicated app for members. Taylor calls them "COVID keepers", noting, "As an industry, we were forced to be creative during the pandemic. As we reopen, I'm hoping we keep that innovative spirit going. Meeting people where they are and providing services and programs in a variety of different ways is a lesson learned after the pandemic. We're looking for ways to communicate and educate our membership base and our community, even if we're not inside of these walls."

Taylor worries that people will become complacent now that the worst of the pandemic is over. "Human beings fall back into old habits. It's important that, pandemic or no pandemic, we're always keeping our future self in mind," he says.

According to Tyler Cooper, M.D., president and CEO of Cooper Aerobics, in Dallas, "We've been practicing for over 50 years the concept of prevention, and the pandemic showed the power of prevention at the highest level. People who hadn't taken as good care of themselves with regards to diet, weight and exercise on average had the biggest problems with COVID as opposed to those who were in better health. I think the pandemic was a wakeup call for people that you need to do your part in taking care of yourself. Your health is your responsibility."

Many studies over the last 40 years demonstrate that people making healthy lifestyles choices are more likely to live longer, enjoy higher quality of life, avoid chronic disease and have lower healthcare costs, Tyler says, noting, "COVID didn't take over as the number one killer in the United States during the pandemic. It never stopped being heart disease, which kills a third of all Americans, and we know that lifestyle choices are specifically correlated to the risk of dying of heart disease."

Cooper believes that most people have a dramatically overestimated opinion of what it means to be fit. "A lot of that is a byproduct of marketing," he explains. "You don't have to look like that person in the athletic wear commercial who is young and in tremendous shape. You don't have to run 10Ks. You get a huge return on investment for very little effort when it comes to being fit. Just walking 30 minutes most days of the week is enough for most people."

Individuals also tend to set unrealistic goals. "They're almost setting themselves up for failure," Cooper says. "I encourage my patients to go for bite-sized improvements that are maintainable over a long period of time. Do your best to stick with it. If you have a bad week, maybe you ate too much one night or you missed a week of exercise, give yourself grace, try again and get back on track. Fitness is a journey, not a destination."

Sandra Yeyati, J.D., is a professional writer. Reach her at [email protected].