Geezer fit?

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Ann Horowitz trains with Mike Quinn. (photo by Brian Hollander)
Ann Horowitz trains with Mike Quinn. (photo by Brian Hollander)

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Ann Horowitz puts down the dumbbells and says she has been working out in a gym for 20 years — slowly. “It’s something to do, everybody’s into it,” she says. “It makes me feel better. This morning I felt like an 84-year-old woman … now I feel like … 82.”

Alongside, her trainer, a buff sort of youngster, Mike Quinn, who just turned 70, gently encourages her.

“There are more referrals for older people in Florida,” says Quinn, who trains young and old clients for half the year there and the other half in Kingston and MAC Fitness in Kingston Plaza. “I spend half my time in Florida at the YMCA as a trainer. Here I have four or five clients who come two or three times per week. With a trainer you get commitment, encouragement and expertise. People want the commitment. A trainer has to keep coming up with new things. You have to throw a few curves at your muscles ….”

Quinn says he had been overweight in high school, but that the Army straightened that out. “I was drafted after college, ended up as a DI (Drill Instructor) in the U.S. Army and had to give a lot of basic training. It got me in the best shape of my life.”

Quinn liked the way he looked and changed the way he ate and stayed like that for 45 years. “After the military, I normally just did aerobics to keep in shape,” he continued. “I play a lot of golf and for many years carried my clubs. Ten years ago I decided to try weight training, particularly for my upper body. I used my legs a lot on the golf course. I went into a gym and watched what other people did. I became a personal trainer in Florida. I asked friends who were trainers about certifications. The best place was the National Academy of Sports Medicine. It was a complete program, including anatomy, kinesiology …. it talked about cardio, fixed form resistance training (machines) and free form resistance (free weights), strength, balance, core work, flexibility. It provided a model so you can take someone at any level of fitness and move forward. I came in here [MAC Fitness] and talked to Kerry [Dotson, the director of the training program] three or four years ago. I had certification. There’s plenty of room here and lots of equipment.”

A healthier region needs to start in school

[wide]health[/wide]Although there have been many educators in my family, I’m not among them. But I do know that the education of a young mind is a multi-faceted thing. More than just reading, writing and ’rithmetic are needed to turn a kid into a happy, healthy and successful adult. Often neglected as a crucial part of education has been teaching kids how to take care of their bodies throughout their lives. A history of inadequate, sometimes optional “gym” classes and cafeteria food that is often neither appealing nor nutritious makes for a health crisis that is improving in bits and pieces here and there, but slowly and with still a long way to go.

A recent conference in New Paltz demonstrated how to find resources for funding and motivating school staff and students to learn how to make big steps to improve student health. The Healthier Hudson Valley Challenge earlier this month at the Ulster BOCES Conference Center in New Paltz featured speakers, panelists and representatives of agencies and corporations offering encouragement to area school administrators and staff, as well as practical information and resources for improving the health of kids in their districts.

The need for leadership

I had to miss the beginning in order to ferry my own child to school, but when I arrived, Mary Joan McLarney, a registered dietician and nutritionist for the U.S Department of Agriculture, was telling the audience about a successful program she was involved with. Components included a parent breakfast every year and a recipe contest for kids.

“It’s about leadership at the school,” she said, and, “This is so broad sweeping because the whole culture shifts.”

In February, President Barack Obama’s administration released nutritional guidelines for snacks sold in schools, to encourage kids to choose fruits, low-fat wholegrain snacks and to limit sugary drinks. The USDA has proposed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, with standards for snack foods and beverages sold to kids at school. Too many still offer “junk” food and drinks to any kids with the spare change to buy them.

The true believer

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Photo by Lauren Thomas
Photo by Lauren Thomas

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The oldest remedies often turn out to be the best. Take, for example, “Thieves,” a blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils used by grave-robbers during the bubonic plague, which decimated much of Europe and Asian in the 14th century, wiping out almost entire populations. “Thieves” allowed the grave-robbers to secure the wealth of deceased victims without contacting the disease themselves. They were protected so well that courts would order them to provide their secret weapon: nature’s oils.

Given our modern pharmaceutical enterprises, that tale could sound foolish — the stuff of legend. But when I was introduced to essential oils almost six years ago by my mother, a veteran counselor and workshop leader, I took her advice to heart. She had many ties in the traditional and not-so-traditional worlds of therapeutics. She had workshops and certifications. And she had accumulated a vast network of alternative-healthy, life-loving friends. Her clients were astounded that what she swore by was “hot water and lemon,” via Deepak Chopra and essential oils.

Besides, she’s my mother. How could it hurt if I followed her advice?

So I used lemongrass to offset the onslaught of bugs during the recreational baseball season, and basil to help cure the itch of bug bites and poison ivy. Prone to panic, I found that lavender essential oil, placed on my temples, sternum and palms of my hand, helped me sleep and relax.

Tending to three active children who are usually running cross-country or swimming when they’re not doing homework kept me busy. It was a full-time chore for me just to keep them fed, not to say vitamin-sufficient.

Subscribing to the age-old remedy of essential oils, every night I would anoint my children every night with Thieves, purification and alternate amino-power. The result? No one got sick. The strep throat which had plagued our swim-family abated. Though we avoided the flu shot, there were no sicknesses.

Spring allergies

[wide]sneeze[/wide]There is a school of thought that the toughest seasonal adjustment for our bodies is from winter into spring. Although the return of warmer air, sunnier skies and the sounds of birds and peepers are mentally uplifting, our bodies have a rough time making the change than for any of the other seasonal transitions.

And for the 35 to 60 million of us (depending on the source) who have spring allergies, it’s even harder. Like having a bad cold, we have some unpleasant combination of itchy, watery eyes and nose, stuffed nose, sneezing or dark circles under the eyes. It can even affect our skin and digestive system, as the earth comes back to life and our immune systems fight off the invisible swirling spring tree pollen.

Once upon a time I thought allergies were pretty psychosomatic and felt little sympathy for its sufferers, but then I joined their ranks. One day in my mid-twenties I went for a spring stroll on a tree-lined boulevard and found myself suddenly afflicted by a host of ailments that felt much like a winter cold. Now every year I cry and sniffle my way through spring, feeling the fatigue of “spring fever,” really hay fever, which has no association with hay or fever either.

Climate change, a.k.a. global warming, is causing the allergy season to get worse with every succeeding spring, and increased carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere mean more pollen. Our harsh, lingering winter of 2012-13, with its heavy snow, rains and cold, delayed gradual tree budding, so it is happening all at once. This long-awaited warming is suddenly stimulating pollen release, contributing to a bad time for spring allergy sufferers.

“It’s one of the worst seasons we have seen for tree pollens,” say allergists at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Usually I grin and bear it, and just pop an OTC allergy med when it gets to be too much. But apparently, I’ve learned, there are better ways to deal with it.

The hedonism (and healthiness) of hiking

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Photo by David Shankbone
Photo by David Shankbone
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What’s the most enjoyable and exhilarating way to fight depression, cardiovascular disease and a host of other ills?

Hiking is an all-season pursuit with many benefits, but perhaps most important is the pure hedonistic joy of it. Although it’s not for everyone — many of my nearest and dearest would rather not — I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember, and I love it. Of the sports I enjoy I’d have to say it’s at the top.

Only fear of bears and human predators keeps me from getting out there all the time. When I was a kid in Vermont I ran around in the woods fearlessly alone, or with a buddy, a gang of kids, my class or the whole school. Or my family. My mother, once an enthusiastic hiker, is a veteran of many solo backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail and Vermont’s Long Trail. Hiking is in my blood. I always did it just for the fun of it, with no thoughts to its physical and mental benefits.

Hiking is the epitome of flexibility. It can be done any time of day or year, at any level from a casual half-mile stroll on flat pavement to extreme mountain climbing on the highest peaks. If you customize your ventures to your fitness level, you won’t burn out. You can keep the fires of fervor for the sport ever burning.

What I love about hiking is how it can combine beautifully with other interests I have, like appreciating nature’s flora and fauna, foraging for edibles, camping, travel and admiring art. If you’re a shopper you can hike a huge mall like Woodbury Commons, although some studies have shown that with the absence of fresh air and varied terrain the mental and physical benefits dip sharply. The British mental health group Mind found in a study that outdoor hikes lower depression and boost self-esteem and mood, while shopping-center walks do the opposite.

Hiking satisfies, or at least teases, the essentially human desire to explore and conquer. Going uphill here, downhill there, adjusting your pace, provides the variety the treadmill lacks, not to mention the discovery of more interesting and varied vistas than whatever’s on the TV at the gym. Like other aerobic workouts it benefits the heart, blood vessels, lungs, muscles and bones all over your body. Carrying a daypack full of water bottles ups the advantages.

“Walking is one of the lowest impact sports around,” maintains the American Hiking Society. “This means that while you derive all the cardiovascular benefits of other aerobic activities, you do so with a minimum of stress, strain and pounding to your body.”

Hiking fights diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis, hypertension, high cholesterol and overweight. Mental benefits include control over insomnia, depression and stress, as well as heightening a sensory awareness that is lacking in this all-too-technological age. Unplug, put away the phone, and listen to the birdsong, feel the sun on your skin and breathe in clean piney moss-scented air. And do it as often as you can, even if for just a few minutes, scheduling longer jaunts as time allows.