Keeping Fit On The Domestic Front

A young earthquake survivor holds a bowl as he waits in line for high protein biscuits from the World Food Program in Port-au-Prince, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010. Relief groups and officials are focused on moving aid flowing into Haiti to survivors of the powerful earthquake that hit the country on Tuesday. AP

He uses his toolbox as a stepper, hefts soup cans to tone his shoulders and wraps a bungee cord around a bench for stretching exercises.

Fitness advocate Jhannie Tolbert doesn't own an expensive elliptical trainer, fancy treadmill or other big home gym equipment. Tolbert, who sports the physique of a bodybuilder, says he's never worked out in a gym.

He has always tried to be like Jack LaLanne - the pioneering TV fitness guru who directed America's housewives from 1951-85 in the proper form for sit-ups and push-ups.

"There's no gimmicks. I really do believe in being able to stay fit at home without spending tons of money," said Tolbert, a videographer and musician who has produced his own fitness show for cable television.

Tolbert's utilitarian vision of fitness is one that the American Council on Exercise, a not-for-profit organization that promotes physical activity, expects more Americans to adopt as obesity rates rise.

"Trainers will provide simple programs using readily available tools (chairs, steps, even walls) that overcome the common barriers of time and access," the council predicted in its 2004 fitness forecast.

Cedric Bryant, its chief exercise physiologist, said it's simple: Muscles don't really know what's working them.

"They don't have little brains that tell them I'm using a $2,000 piece of equipment versus bungee cords or soup cans," he said. "They just respond to the level of resistance they're exposed to."

Tolbert, 41, has appeared on HGTV's "TIPical Mary Ellen" show, and on a couple of Twin Cities television stations. But he's not alone in coming up with routines that don't rely on often-costly machines.

Lori Dean, a former host of ESPN2's "Crunch Fitness" show, has demonstrated how to build upper-body strength by lifting a bag of groceries by the handles 10 or 12 times before putting the groceries away. Jeanne Ernst, who co-starred in five of Jane Fonda's exercise videos, has demonstrated how garden clippers can work the arms and stomach and how using a lawn mower can help shape legs, chest and buttocks.

Other experts show how to use jump ropes, playground balls, brooms, chairs, even the vacuum cleaner in simple workouts.

Bryant warned that people need to know proper exercise technique and form for such workouts to be successful.

ACE and the National Association for Health and Fitness recommend brisk walking as a free and easy way to get exercise into a busy day. Walk the dog, walk through art festivals, hike a beautiful gorge, says Philip Haberstro, the association's president.

"Integrate physical activity into the kinds of fun things where you don't even feel it as you're doing it," Haberstro said, noting that moderate physical activity can reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Several experts said motivation and setting realistic, measurable goals are key to a successful exercise program. Rather than aiming to lose 20 pounds, people should try to lose 2 pounds a week so they have a chance to experience success weekly, Bryant said. The experts recommend about 30 minutes of daily exercise.

However, exercise is not a one-prescription-fits-all formula, cautioned Chris Kimber of the Minnesota Department of Health and a regional director of NAHF.

"There's many ways to fitness, and a lot of people do these inexpensive things because that's what they've got available and they're more likely to use it," Kimber said.

Americans spent about $4.3 billion in exercise equipment in 2002, but Tolbert suggests that people look hard at what they already have around the house.

For Tolbert, two big orange liquid Tide containers filled with water become weights. When his toolbox isn't handy, he uses the stairs in his home as a stepper. There's also the old hula-hoop in the garage, the beach ball, the broom handle for stretches.

"Look at this," he said as he grabbed a chunk of wood from the front of the fireplace and sat down in a recliner. He placed the wood under his heels and rolled his heels and arches over the wood to demonstrate how to exercise calves and ankles while watching TV.

"I'm like your typical Joe," Tolbert said. "I've got to do my gigs. I've got to do work. I've got to pay for a home. I've got a busy lifestyle, but yet I've stayed in shape."


By Karren Mills
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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