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Fitness

Dr. John Clarke. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Live from Upton, New York, it’s … Dr. John Clarke.

While the arrival of the new Occupational Medicine Director and Chief Medical Officer at Brookhaven National Laboratory doesn’t involve late-night comedy, or a live studio audience, it does bring a medical doctor with a passion for bringing his rap and musical skills to a health care audience.

Dr. John Clarke. Photo from BN

Formerly the director of occupational medicine at Cornell University, Dr. Clarke joined the Department of Energy lab as Occupational Medicine Director and Chief Medical Officer for BNL in June..

“My role is to help maintain safety and wellness among the workers,” said Dr. Clarke. “If we have employees who start coming in for some sort of complaint and we see a pattern, that may help us identify who could be at risk of something we didn’t know about that we are detecting.”

A doctor who served as chief resident at New York Medical College in family residency and Harvard University in occupational & environmental medicine, Dr. Clarke said he plans to support a range of preventive efforts.

“I’m excited about the potential to engage in what’s considered primary prevention,” said Clarke, which he defined as preventing a disease from occurring in the first place.

Through primary prevention, he hopes to help the staff avoid developing chronic illnesses such as cancer, while also ensuring the health and responsiveness of their immune systems.

Through physical fitness, a plant-based diet including fruits and vegetables, adequate sleep and hydration with water, people can use lifestyle choices and habits to reduce their need for various medications and enable them to harness the ability of their immune systems to mount an effective response against any threat.

“Modifying your lifestyle is the therapy,” he said. “If you engage [in those activities] in the right way, that is the treatment.”

Dr. Clarke added that the severity and stage of a disease may impact the effectiveness of such efforts. For any vaccine and for the body’s natural immunity to work, people need a healthy immune system.

When Dr. Clarke practiced family medicine, he saw how patients lost weight through a diet that reduced the need for medication for diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Losing weight and staying active does provide a therapeutic impact, where you could be medication free,” he said.

To be sure, living a healthier lifestyle requires ongoing effort to maintain. After reaching a desired weight or cholesterol level, people can backslide into an unhealthier state or condition, triggering the occurrence or recurrence of a disease.

In the vast majority of cases, Clarke said, “you have to make a permanent lifestyle change” to avoid the need for pharmaceutical remedies that reduce the worst effects of disease.

BNL has an exercise physiologist on staff who “we hope to engage in consultations with employees,” said Clarke. He would like the exercise physiologist to go to the gym with staff to show them how to use equipment properly to get the maximum benefit.

BNL already has some classes and various initiatives that promote wellness. “One of the things we’d like to do is coordinate and try to publicize it enough where employees are aware” of the options available at the lab to live a healthier and balanced life, he added.

BNL also has a dietician on staff. Dr. Clarke has not worked with the dietician yet, but hopes it will be part of an upcoming initiative. As he and his staff respond to the demand, they will consider bringing on other consultants and experts to develop programs. 

Covid concerns

Like others in his position in other large employers around Long Island, Dr. Clarke is focused on protecting workers from any ongoing threat from Covid-19.

“We’re still learning more as [SARS-CoV2, the virus that caused the pandemic] evolves,” he said. BNL does a “great job about monitoring the prevalence and the numbers of cases in Suffolk County and among workers.”

Dr. Clarke said he and others at BNL are following the Department of Energy, New York State and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on these issues.

If the numbers of infections and hospitalizations increase in the coming months, as people move to more indoor activities, BNL may consider deploying a strategy where the lab provides more opportunities for staff to work remotely.

Prior to his arrival at BNL, Dr. Clarke worked as a consultant for a company that was looking to create numerous permanent jobs that were remote.

He suggested that workers need to remain aware of their remote surroundings and shouldn’t work near a furnace or any heater that might release dangerous gases like carbon monoxide. 

Additionally, people should avoid working in areas that aren’t habitable, such as in an attic. Dr. Clarke urges people to notify and consult their employer if they have concerns about working safely at home or on site.

Music vs. medicine

A native of Queens who spent three years of his childhood in Barbados, Dr. Clarke attended Columbia University, where he majored in sociology and music while he was on a pre-med track.

While he was an undergraduate, Dr. Clarke wrote, produced and performed original music. An independent label was going to help secure a major label deal.

He chose to attend medical school at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Dr. Clarke has championed a program he calls “health hop,” in which he has used rap to reach various audiences with medical care messages. In 2009, he won a flu prevention video contest sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services for an “H1N1 rap.”

Train commuters may also recognize him from his work for the Long Island Railroad, for which he created a “gap rap.” The public service announcement was designed to protect children from falling into or tripping over the gap between the train and the platform.

Dr. Clarke has produced music for numerous genres, including for a children’s album and a Christian album.

As for life outside BNL, Dr. Clarke is married to Elizabeth Clarke, who is a nurse practitioner and is in the doctorate of nursing practice and clinical leadership program at Duke University.

When he’s not spending time with his wife or their children, he enjoys home projects like flooring and tiling.

Dr. Clarke is pleased to be working at the national Department of Energy lab.“BNL is a great place, because the science and the work they do has an impact,” he said.

Little ballerinas wear their masks and stay in their special boxes to maintain social distancing at Chance to Dance in Setauket. Photo by Julianne Mosher

They all decided to think outside the box when it comes to socially distanced dancing. 

When dance studios across Long Island had to close their doors at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic back in March, owners were concerned about what that meant for their studios. 

Ballerinas at Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jefferson Station balance in their boxes. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Gwenn Capodieci, executive director at Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jefferson Station, said in her 35 years at the studio, this year was unlike any other. 

“This was probably one of the hardest times of my life,” she said. “It was so very stressful trying to get the PPP loans, any other grants, working with our landlords, worrying about not being at the studio — I’m in the risky age group and I want to continue doing what I love.”

But within a week after the shutdown, she said, Backstage posted 65 classes to Zoom.

“Teaching on zoom was difficult,” she said. “In the beginning the kids were excited, but then it wore off. Part of dancing is they’re your family, you want to see them in class.”

Capodieci said her studio surveyed parents on holding a recital — a rite of passage for many ballerinas where they adorn sparkly tutu’s and dance for their families on the big stage after months of rehearsals. They decided to cancel it this year. 

But in mid-July they were allowed to reopen in person, changing shape, and adhering to the new state’s guidelines for teaching. Inside her studio taped to the floor are different grids, a socially distanced box for each dancer to twirl and tap in, while wearing their newest accessory — a mask.

Ballerinas at the barre stay six feet away from each other during warmups. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We’ve perfected the cleaning routine,” she said. “We clean the floors in between every class, wipe down the barres and have taken every chair, cubby and bench that’s in the studio away.”

“I want to be safe,” she added. “I don’t want to get anyone sick, and I don’t want to close my business.”

Capodieci said the added costs of Zoom and the cleaning supplies took a toll, especially with enrollment down.

“Enrollment was 60-something percent of what we normally have,” she said. “I’m hoping that next year is a good year for us.”

Down the road, also in Port Jefferson Station, Port Jefferson Dance Academy was celebrating its 25th year in business when the virus struck.

“We did not do Zoom classes, instead I started a private Facebook page and my teachers would upload videos so students can do classes, warmups, barre work and across the floor whenever they chose to so they wouldn’t have to miss out on a Zoom meeting time or class,” Director Tara Lennstrom said. “Financially it was rough because I wasn’t making a profit off of that. The hope was when we opened up again, we could just resume where we left off.”

The outdoor stage at Port Jefferson Dance Academy. Photo from PJ Dance Academy

When they opened back up during Phase 4, they picked up on rehearsals for their recital. Normally the dancers perform at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University but were unable to due to COVID. She decided to hold an outdoor recital, instead. 

“I rented a giant dance floor with a DJ to play the music and people didn’t feel like they were behind the shopping center,” she said. “It was one of the most difficult recitals I’ve ever had to put together, but it was probably one of the best.”

Now in its 26th year, her classes look a little different. “We have 10 students per class, and I have a rather large studio, so that gives us ample space to dance,” she said. “People seem to be happy that there is something for their kids to do that’s fun and creative.”

Decked in their leotards and masks, Lennstrom said her students are not even phased by the new guidelines anymore.

“The resilience these kids have just shows you how they were able to adapt and how flexible they are,” she said.

Gabrielle Cambria, special productions manager at Chorus Line Dance Studio in Smithtown and Miller Place, said opening back up under the new guidelines was a no-brainer.

Ballerinas must stay within their boxes at Chorus Line Dance Studio in Smithtown. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We all know that physical health isn’t the only health you need,” she said. “Everyone’s been really lucky and safe at our studio, and we’ve been dancing ever since.”

Chorus Line also implemented a large TV screen into their classrooms so students can Zoom in from home. 

“Our in-class group is cut in half, so they go back and forth each week,” Cambria added. 

Chance to Dance in Setauket did the same thing and opened up a Google Classroom account back in April.

“Anybody can take virtual class if they want to,” Jennifer Kranenberg, studio owner said. “If they’re not comfortable yet coming to class, they can still do something.”

Kranenberg said the virtual option was one positive that came out of COVID, because it allows students to makeup a class from home, or if they’re feeling slightly under the weather, they can still dance online. 

Young members of Chance to Dance studio in Setauket are also being recorded and livestreamed for other members not present. Photo by Julianne Mosher

At the start of the pandemic, Kranenberg said she knew how important the social aspect was for her students, so she added bonus weekly fun calendar of events including show and tells, Netflix movie nights, tea parties and family game nights online so her kids could still communicate virtually. She also featured her graduating seniors on social media, along with a surprise graduation car parade and a small, socially distanced prom. 

“I gave a huge piece of myself to make sure that the kids were having fun, staying engaged and getting to be with each other, having interactions with their dance friends,” she said. “It goes a long way.”

And, like the other studios, she faced similar challenges. She had to cut one of her three rooms to maintain a cap on students. “Enrollment is definitely low,” she said. “I wish it was higher than it was, but it’s not awful. I feel hopeful, but I’m scared. I feel like it’s a tight margin financially to, swing it and to get by.”

Miss Gwenn and her students at Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jeff Station. Photo by Julianne Mosher

being in different locations with different students and classes, all four owners can agree that being back with their students was worth the hardship they faced the last nine months.

Capodieci said that her first day back in the studio she cried when she saw her students. 

“I love teaching dance,” she said. “I love my kids. I want to be with them, and if wearing the mask allows us to dance then we have to wear a mask.”

Owners of Huner’s Fitness Advantage in Port Jefferson said they believe they should be considered essential for the work they do helping people remain active and healthy. Photo from Huner’s Fitness Advantage website

After doing heavy lifting to ensure customer and employee safety, gyms can begin to reopen soon.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced a gradual gym reopening starting this Monday, Aug. 24. This comes after earlier this week Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said gyms can start to reopen once they receive guidance from local government.

Commercial gyms, such as Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, Retro Fitness and those that require a membership fee, along with indoor classes can restart next week.

Each fitness center will have to pass a county health inspection to make sure the gyms have sufficient procedures to protect staff and customers while following state guidelines established by Cuomo.

Hotel, office, higher education and residential gyms can reopen starting the following week, on Aug. 31.

On Thursday, Aug. 20, the county will host a virtual meeting with facility owners to review guidance, answer questions and provide any clarifications.

“With our infection rate holding steady at or below 1 percent and a robust testing system in place, we are confident we can reopen gyms in a way that is both safe and responsible,” Bellone said in a statement. “I want to remind our residents and gym owners that we are still in the midst of a pandemic.”

Bellone encouraged those attending gyms to wear a mask and follow all safety procedures.

Communal showers, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms and water fountains and self-serve bars and samples must remain closed. According to the governor’s web site, individual showers and stalls can remain open as long as they are cleaned between use.

Classes are restricted to the most restrictive guidelines, which could either be six feet of distance in all directions from a participant, a limit of 33 percent capacity and no more than 50 people.

Gym owners also must provide sanitizing stations, acceptable face coverings, which exclude bandanas, buffs and gaiters and the limitation of physical contact activities including boxing and martial arts.

During each inspection, businesses will receive a gallon of NYS Clean hand sanitizer.

According to Cuomo, local health departments are required to inspect gyms prior to reopening or within two weeks of reopening, to ensure strict adherence to the state Department of Health guidance.

Indeed, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will begin inspections on Monday, Aug. 24 for commercial and traditional gyms.

“New Yorkers must closely adhere to the guidelines and local health departments are required to strictly enforce them to help ensure gyms and fitness center reopen safely and protect the public health,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning will work with the Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to create an online database of gyms and fitness centers within the county.

Before an inspection, gym owners will need to complete the affirmation for each location, which owners can find at the New York Forward website forward.ny.gov, that they reviewed and understood the state guidelines and will implement these protocols.

After owners attest to their safety plans, the county will schedule inspections. Suffolk will send out an email with the date and approximate time for an inspection.

Gym owners need to post a written safety plan describing the ways they are protecting employees and gym members from COVID-19.

Cuomo also requires that gyms use a MERV-13 or greater air-handling system. If the gym can’t operate at that level, the owners need to have a heating, ventilation and air conditioning professional document their inability to use such a system and adopt additional ventilation and mitigation protocols from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shoreham-Wading River school district is considering converting the closed fitness center into a wrestling center. Photo by Kyle Barr Photo by Kyle Barr

Robert Badalian once woke up early in the morning on weekdays to make it to the aging Joe Ferreira Fitness Center at the Shoreham-Wading River High School. For close to 20 years, from 6 to 8 a.m. men and woman walked through the door, quickly becoming friends and regulars. Most were older in age and already retired but found a community where they could exercise without judgment.

“I got through cancer thanks to the exercise of the gym.”

— Peggy Loscalzo

More than a year since the fitness center suddenly closed after an engineer’s report showed the floor was not up to code, the fitness center regulars are continuing to shout their support at board meetings for their small group to be able to use a fitness center at their school. Though current plans to move the fitness center into the school building has many of those residents feeling they’re being pushed out, as now the temporary facility is located inside the school in rooms A101 and 102.

“If the fitness center stays where it is or moves to the auxiliary gym, it will remain a single use facility,” Badalian said. “It’s just not logical that you would move a fitness center from an external building, that’s self-contained, and move it into the high school.”

Officials have already floated the idea to move the fitness center into the school building where the current auxiliary gym resides. Though the district had definitive plans to renovate the old fitness center, a proposed plan is to create a wrestling center in that external building where the old gym room sits vacant.

Board Vice President Katie Andersen said much of it has to do with the security issue of having people walk outside the building during school hours to reach the gym. Students also have limited access and could suffer injury outside from adverse weather.

SWR Superintendent Gerard Poole gave a presentation at the Aug. 20 board meeting recommending gym hours be separate from students’ hours, and that if the gym were to be moved into the school it would only be open for outside residents two days a week in the evening hours and Saturday morning. He also offered the idea of a structured community program for fitness education.

Shoreham residents like Jim and Peggy Loscalzo, who had used the old gym for more than a decade before it was shut down, vehemently opposed the idea of limited times to use the gym. They said the only times they could attend gym hours were early in the morning, as later in the day they may be too tired to go to a gym. 

“I got through cancer thanks to the exercise of the gym,” Peggy Loscalzo said.

Poole presented there was an average of 30 weekly resident users of the previous gym, and most were regulars. Of those 30 only eight users exceeded three days a week in attendance.

Badalian vehemently disputed those numbers, calling it closer to 70 paid members.

“The staff was never even questioned about this,” he said.

Some residents questioned why the wrestlers should need their own specific space, though those parents with kids in the wrestling program called it a year-round sport, with training taking place throughout the year.

“We students don’t have the money to buy a gym membership.”

— Connor Blenning

Several residents said they have bought gym memberships in the meantime, but they find it hard to schedule their times, so they could be there with the old compatriots of the old gym.

SWR student Connor Blenning, a wrestler, said lacking a fitness center hurt them last wrestling season, and having a specific space for their sport would be invaluable.

“We didn’t have a gym to do strength training,” he said.

He added that he thought that if the gym is easily accessible to students, who might walk by it multiple times a day, they could be influenced to use the fitness center where they may not have previously.

“We students don’t have the money to buy a gym membership,” he said. “School kids could staff it.”

Board President Michael Lewis said they are still working on the proposals and have not made any final decision yet what will become of the old or a new fitness center.

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Anthony Amen, back middle, with his emplyees at Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai. Photo from Anthony Amen

Helping people and seeing the positive impacts on their lives is the best part of the job for Anthony Amen, the owner of Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai. 

“There’s nothing better than that,” he said. 

Though for Amen, his path to opening his new business last fall started almost a decade ago when he was a sophomore in college at SUNY Oswego.  

It was there in February 2010 when Amen was playing broomball, a game played on ice in a similar way to hockey, but instead of a stick it’s done with a rubber-headed broom, and instead of skates players wear rubber-soled shoes. He was playing with his friends, but his life changed when a friendly game took a turn for the worse.

Anthony Amen after his injury in 2010. Photo from Amen

“We were playing a game and a friend of mine went in for a slide tackle,” he said. “I was trying to avoid the hit and slipped, fell backwards and whacked my head on the ice very hard.”

Amen suffered a serious concussion, along with injuries to his neck and back. For three-and-a-half months he was unable to look at any visible light and sat in his bed in the dark for much of the time.  

As a result of his head injury, Amen began suffering from debilitating migraines. He could barely move his head and he was unable to put his hands above his head. 

He said sought help from doctors, but each told him that concussions take time to recover from, and it was something he would have to learn to deal with. 

“I went to 25 different doctors and they all told me the same thing — ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. We can’t do anything,’” Amen said. “They put me on Percocet and muscle relaxants and told me ‘Good luck.’”

He said a doctor told him he was “a physician, not a magician. I don’t know what you want from me.”

It was those experiences that served as the catalyst that would change Amen’s life. 

Amen said he was stubborn, and he didn’t want to give up and didn’t want this to be his norm. 

“I started experimenting and working out in the gym to try to make myself better,” he said. “The more I did the better I felt.”

The Mount Sinai business owner said he was able to fix himself from getting migraines every week and being unable to get out of bed, to never having one in more than five years. 

“One of the biggest moments for me was being able to put my hands over my head again,” he said. 

Amen works on a fitness ball at his gym. Photo from Amen

Amen fell in love with fitness and wanted to teach people what he had learned. He began working at various gyms throughout Long Island as a trainer and in management, with a goal to eventually own a place of his own. A year-and-a-half ago, his vision became a reality when he decided he would open Redefine Fitness. 

“It was very stressful to open a business, but I was passionate about this and I had to try,” he said. ”I think it was the right time for me to try. I have no wife and kids — I didn’t want to regret not doing this.”  

In fall 2018, Redefine Fitness opened its doors with one of the goals of making the connection between fitness, medicine and rehabilitation. They use research-based information in conjunction with their certified trainers to make tailored workout programs for their clients. 

Amen admits the first few months open have gone better than he could have ever imagined.  

“The clients have been so great, they tell me they see the passion in me,” he said. 

One experience that sticks out to Amen was when he trained a 65-year-old woman who had a lung transplant and had a breathing machine. He said she would struggle to tie her own shoes. 

“We got her to squat 175 pounds and got her to run,” he said. “It was amazing seeing this woman’s life change from being told you couldn’t do something. It shows that if you put your mind to something you could achieve anything.”

The Mount Sinai gym has five trainers, including Amen, and offers one-on-one training sessions, weight loss programs and various classes as well as special needs and post-rehab programs. 

In the future, Amen hopes to expand the gym to other locations, and wants to continue making a positive impact in the community.  

Reflecting to his pre-college days, Amen said he was not the athlete type and used to run 15-minute miles and be happy about it. 

“Looking back I would’ve never pictured this in a million years,” he said. “I want to show [people] that there’s no giving up. I want to pass that knowledge and passion to everybody else.”

Owner Anthony Amen, center, celebrates with his staff, local officials, chamber members and clients last Saturday. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening for Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai on May 4. The event was attended by friends, family, staff, clients, chamber members and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) and Leg. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who presented owner Anthony Amen with Certificates of Congratulations. 

“Redefine Fitness offers personal training and special weight loss programs with a unique approach to guide their clients to reach their goals. The Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance welcomes them to our community and wishes them all the best in their future success,” said JoAnn Klein, membership director for the chamber.

“Leg. Anker and I are major supporters of small businesses. We appreciate you having faith in Mount Sinai and opening up a business here. We wish you all the success in the world,” added Bonner.

“Redefine Fitness offers one on one training, small group training, special needs training. We’re here to help people. We just want to help everyone live happy and healthy lives. We hope to continue and grow,” said Amen. “I just want to thank everyone for their support.”

Located at 5507 Nesconset Highway in the King Kullen Shopping Center, the gym is open Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to noon. For more information, call 631-743-9906 or visit www.redefine-fitness.com.

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dear Santa,

Dr. David Dunaief

This time of year, people around the world are no doubt sending you lists of things they want through emails, blogs, tweets and old-fashioned letters. In the spirit of giving, I’d like to offer you some advice.

Let’s face it: You aren’t exactly the model of good health. Think about the example you’re setting for all those people whose faces light up when they imagine you shimmying down their chimneys. You have what I’d describe as an abnormally high BMI (body mass index). Since you are a role model to millions, this sends the wrong message.

We already have an epidemic of overweight kids, leading to an ever increasing number of type 2 diabetics at younger and younger ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2015, more than 100 million U.S. adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes. It complicates the issue that approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight and/or obese. This is just one of many reasons we need you as a shining beacon of health.

Obesity has a much higher risk of shortening a person’s life span, not to mention quality of life and self-image. The most dangerous type of obesity is an increase in visceral adipose tissue, which means central belly fat. An easy way to tell if someone is too rotund is if a waistline, measured from the navel, is greater than or equal to 40 inches for a man, and is greater than or equal to 35 inches for a woman. The chances of diseases such as pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer and heart disease increase dramatically with this increased fat.

Santa, here is a chance for you to lead by example (and, maybe by summer, to fit into those skinny jeans you hide in the back of your closet). Think of the advantages to you of being slimmer and trimmer. Your joints wouldn’t ache with the winter cold, and you would have more energy. Plus, studies show that with a plant-based diet, focusing on fruits and vegetables, you can reverse atherosclerosis, clogging of the arteries.

The importance of a good diet not only helps you lose weight, but avoid strokes, heart attacks and peripheral vascular diseases, among other ailments. But you don’t have to be vegetarian; you just have to increase your fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods significantly. With a simple change, like eating a handful of raw nuts a day, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by half. Santa, future generations need you. Losing weight will also change your center of gravity, so your belly doesn’t pull you forward. This will make it easier for you to keep your balance on those steep, icy rooftops.

Exercise will help, as well. Maybe for the first continent or so, you might want to consider walking or jogging alongside the sleigh. As you exercise, you’ll start to tighten your abs and slowly see fat disappear from your midsection. Your fans everywhere leave you cookies and milk when you deliver presents. It’s a tough cycle to break, but break it you must. You — and your fans — need to see a healthier Santa. 

You might let slip that the modern Santa enjoys fruits, especially berries, and veggies, with an emphasis on cruciferous veggies like broccoli florets dipped in humus, which have substantial antioxidant qualities and can help reverse disease. And, of course, skip putting candy in the stockings. No one needs more sugar, and I’m sure that, over the long night, it’s hard to resist sneaking a piece, yourself.

As for your loyal fans, you could place fitness videos under the tree. In fact, you and your elves could make workout videos for those of us who need them, and we could follow along as you showed us “12 Days of Workouts with Santa and Friends.” Who knows, you might become a modern version of Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons or even the next Shaun T!

How about giving athletic equipment, such as baseball gloves, footballs and basketballs, instead of video games? You could even give wearable devices that track step counts and bike routes or stuff gift certificates for dance lessons into people’s stockings. These might influence the recipients to be more active.

By doing all this, you might also have the kind of energy that will make it easier for you to steal a base or two in this season’s North Pole Athletic League’s Softball Team. The elves don’t even bother holding you on base anymore, do they?

As you become more active, you’ll find that you have more energy all year round, not just on Christmas Eve. If you start soon, Santa, maybe by next year, you’ll find yourself parking the sleigh farther away and skipping from chimney to chimney.

The benefits of a healthier Santa will ripple across the world. Think about something much closer to home, even your reindeer won’t have to work so hard. You might also fit extra presents in your sleigh. And Santa, you will be sending kids and adults the world over the right message about taking control of their health through nutrition and exercise. That’s the best gift you could give!

Wishing you good health in the new year,

David

P.S. I could really use some new baseballs, if you have a little extra room in your sleigh.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician. 

٭We invite you to check out our new weekly Medical Compass MD Health Videos on Times Beacon Record News Media’s website, www.tbrnewsmedia.com.٭

Personal Fitness in Rocky Point. Photo from Facebook

By Kevin Redding

A Rocky Point fitness club owner is determined to get people in shape — inside the gym and beyond it.

Since 1989, North Shore residents have been going to Personal Fitness on Route 25A not just to run on the treadmill and get fit for beach season. They go to have their lives transformed by Ed Darcey, the gym’s owner, trainer and “overall cheerleader and therapist,” according to gym members, who are made up of athletes, parents, children, developmentally disabled residents, people in wheelchairs and those struggling with drugs, alcohol or abuse.

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness in Rocky Point, training a client. Photo from Facebook

“Ed is an inspirational, motivational, kind, empowering and passionate trainer,” said Faith Powers-Raynis, who joined the gym after suffering a spinal cord disease that paralyzed her from the waist down. “Ed is helping me to rebuild the muscles that I lost … I know with Ed’s help, I just might get back on my feet.”

“He’s a wonderful soul,” Lisa Monaco said. “He makes you feel comfortable and pushes you as far as you can go.”

Rob Geneva, a longtime customer turned staff member, said Darcey makes the atmosphere feel less like you’re in a gym and more like the bar from “Cheers.”

“Anybody is welcome and you just get that feeling right when you come in,” he said. “You’re not intimidated.”

Darcey, 54, a Shoreham native and Riverhead High School graduate, said he has always felt a need to help and protect those around him, whether it was a kid at school being bullied or a homeless person on the street asking for money. It’s a feeling that remains.

“If someone needs a hand, I’m going to try and reach out and do my best to help, especially those whose lives maybe aren’t what they should be,” Darcey said. “A lot of our members here see the gym as an outlet, like a second home. Sometimes they’re more comfortable here than they are at their actual home. They come here, get in shape and we all root each other on. I’m trying to help give them a better life if I can.”

A football player throughout high school, Darcey pursued a degree in physical education and health at C.W. Post, where he received his gym certification after three years. In his late 20s, he decided to take advantage of some empty space next door to his parent’s long-running carpet business on Route 25A, and he’s been there ever since.

“From the beginning, I tried to make it very personal and hands-on,” he said. “Lots of other gyms are these big franchises. This is a family-type atmosphere. We have members that have wheelchairs and walkers, and kids with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. But in my gym, everybody’s the same. Some may have different limitations and abilities, but they’re all the same to me.”

The first time Rocky Point resident Rich Grundmann went to the gym, he saw a young woman with Down syndrome running on a treadmill and mentioned to a nearby trainer that his 12-year-old son Alex had cerebral palsy, wondering if he’d be able to get involved with the gym. The trainer encouraged the father to bring him by.

“After just one session there, my son just lit up,” Grundmann said. “And the personal attention they gave him was incredible. He’s been through all sorts of therapy, personal and occupational, but the trainers here really pushed him and he loves it. It’s amazing the amount of strength he’s built up since going there.”

Alex, he said, moves around in a walker and sometimes a wheelchair, and has a lot of spasticity. The trainers work on stretching his legs and arms to gain more mobility.

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness in Rocky Point. Photo from Facebook

“It gets frustrating for him at school because he looks around and he wants to do all the sports the other kids do and wants to feel like a regular teenager,” his father said. “But whenever he leaves the gym, he’s on cloud nine. There’s something about that place and Ed where everyone fits in. It’s like a big family.”

Amy Dias of Middle Island, who sustained a traumatic brain injury after a car accident on Middle Country Road in 2003, said Personal Fitness helped her feel confident again. Following the accident, which left her in a coma for nine months, doctors told Dias she would never speak or move again. A year after she joined the gym, she was walking with a cane and talking. She even lives on her own now.

“I’m not afraid to talk to people now and they definitely strengthened my right side, which got affected most,” Dias said. “I love everyone at the gym. Ed is wonderful and really helped me.”

And how did he do the impossible?

“He cares,” she said. “He honestly cares about every individual person.”

The gym owner also helps out in the local community, frequently lending a charitable hand to Ridge Full Gospel Christian Church, where he recently helped to feed and clothe the homeless on Thanksgiving. He raises funds and promotes any and all shelters and charity drives in the area, and is a regular contributor to Betty’s Closet, a store inside the Rocky Point Middle School cafeteria that helps raise money and collect toys and food for families in need.

“Whenever I post something about an upcoming event on my page, he’s always ready to help,” said Betty Loughran, the Rocky Point PTA member who created Betty’s Closet. “He gets all the gym members involved, donates gift cards and goods and whatever the community needs. He’s just a really good person. The gym is always open and if kids in the community are ever in trouble and need a place to go, he’s there for them.”

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By Lisa Steuer

When the holidays are finally over and January rolls around once again, it’s a time that can be overwhelming for many people. Most likely, the holidays were filled with indulgences, a lack of exercise, pounds gained and more. Plus, a new year inspires many people to make resolutions. But all too often, those resolutions are forgotten by February.

The good news is that if you really want to make a change this year, you do possess the tools to do so — no matter what your goal may be. Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D., is the founding director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center and assistant professor in the psychiatry department at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. In his role as a clinical psychologist, Gonzalez provides clinical services to the community and to patients at the hospital, with a focus on a holistic way of providing care to heal the mind and body. Gonzalez and his colleagues have conducted research to support the mind-body connection and help people work on stress management skills, improve their health and set and meet behavioral goals.

So exactly why is it so difficult for so many people to actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions and make a big change? Gonzalez pointed out three main reasons: setting unrealistic goals, getting distracted or losing focus, and finally, not knowing where to start. If you want to make a big change in your life, a good way to begin is to monitor your current behavior, notice where the behavior is occurring, your thoughts and beliefs about the behavior, as well as some of the thoughts you are having while the behavior is occurring, said Gonzalez.

“If I start thinking, ‘I’m a failure, I’ll never make this change, I can’t keep up with this,’ I’m likely not to keep up with it.” — Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D.

“All of our thoughts, behaviors and emotions interact, so if you work on your thinking style or work on managing behaviors, that can affect emotions and also the behavioral outcomes,” said Gonzalez.

For instance, if someone wants to make changes in their sleep, Gonzalez would have them monitor how much sleep they are currently getting, what their current bed time is, what time they wake up, etc. If a person wants to make changes to their eating habits, that person might want to think about who these behaviors are occurring with ­— who are the friends he or she is going out to eat with and where, and think about whether anyone else is helping to drive that behavior.

“You want to get supportive people around you who actually can be there to help foster the behavior change that you’re looking for,” said Gonzalez. “If the people that are around you aren’t supportive, I would suggest addressing it head on: letting the individuals know what, specifically, you need from them, whether it’s something you need them to do or not do.”

One pitfall that many people fall into when trying to make a change is getting discouraged when a lapse in the behavior change occurs — examples include slipping on your diet, having a cigarette if you’re trying to quit, etc.

“The way you interpret the hiccup or lapse will have a profound effect on your next step. So don’t get discouraged or beat yourself up too hard when you have a lapse in the behavior that you’re trying to change,” said Gonzalez.

Another instance where many people get discouraged is when they make a goal to get to the gym a certain amount of times a week and then fail to meet that goal one week, Gonzalez noted.

“If I start thinking, ‘I’m a failure, I’ll never make this change, I can’t keep up with this,’ I’m likely not to keep up with it,” said Gonzalez. “First is recognizing it for what it is — that you missed two days this week and next week you’re going to be going to the gym the four days you wanted … or, it’s re-evaluating the goal and your plans. Maybe four times a week … [with] your schedule is a little too intense. So maybe it’s scaling back your goals and making it something that’s more attainable.”

And once you reach your goal, how do you stay motivated? Many people, after losing weight for instance, may find it difficult to stay on the path and instead go back to old habits.

juggling-w“It’s important to consistently remind yourself of why the goal is important,” said Gonzalez. “So it’s building up motivation in your mind, and sometimes we will recommend that people put Post-its around that might have motivational statements on it or something that’s very personal or relevant to them to remind them of why this goal is important.”

 

SMART goal-setting

Gonzalez shared the SMART goal-setting technique, which is used in programs at Stony Brook’s Mind-Body Clinical Research Center:

Specific: Make sure your goals are straightforward, specific, and emphasize what you want to happen. “So you don’t want to just say, ‘I want to lose weight.’ It’s good to be specific and say, ‘I want to lose 10 pounds,’” said Gonzalez.

Measurable: Make a goal that you can make measurable progress on so that you can see the change occurring, and set time frames so that you can see if you’re reaching your goal or not.

Attainable: Identify goals that are most important to you and aren’t too far out of reach. “Losing 50 pounds in three months is probably a stretch, so you want to make sure it’s something attainable,” said Gonzalez.

Relevant: The goal should be something that you’re really willing to put effort in and work toward.

Time-based: Setting a time frame can be very helpful in achieving goals. Plus, setting long- and short-term goals can help you achieve them. For instance, set a short-term goal of losing five pounds. Once you meet that goal, it can motivate you to keep making progress toward a larger weight-loss goal.

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Your guide to a healthy winter

By Lisa Steuer

It’s easy to become sedentary and gain a little extra weight during the winter. After all, the frigid temperatures tend to keep us indoors, there are holiday parties with goodies that tempt us and an extra weight gain can simply be hidden under a few more layers of clothing.

But if you take a few steps toward your health and fitness this winter, you can lose or maintain your weight and then be prepared to be in your best shape when the warmer months hit yet again. Here are some tips to keep you on track this winter.

Plan it out
Each Sunday, take the time to look at what you’re doing the week ahead. Plan out what days you’ll work out and what the workout will be. Scheduling them in like appointments may just become habit and make you less likely to miss them. Plus, prepare your healthy meals for the week on Sunday to save time and make it easier to stay on track during the week. For a simple guide to food prep, visit www.fitnessrxwomen.com and search for the article “10 Tips for a Quicker and Easier Food Prep.”

Work out — no excuses
Living a fit lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to miss out on sweet treats at holiday parties and other gatherings. If you know you’re going to be indulging in a few extra calories one day, be absolutely sure to get in a workout that morning so you don’t feel too guilty about it.

Eat beforehand
Before a party or gathering, have a satisfying but healthy snack like a protein shake or fruit like a banana so that you don’t attend the party starving and end up making poor food choices due to being so hungry.

Fill up on veggies
When you go to a party, go right to the veggie tray and fill up.

Stay away from eggnog and other high-calorie drinks
If having alcohol at a party, try a glass of dry red wine or vodka with cranberry. Liquid calories can add up extremely fast. If you do drink alcohol, make sure you’re also drinking plenty of water.

Experiment with healthy baking and cooking
A lot of times, with a few simple substitutions, it’s easy to cook and bake healthier without sacrificing taste. For example, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference if you use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream on lean chicken tacos. Visit www.fitnessrxwomen.com for tons of healthy, easy and delicious meals and desserts that won’t leave you feeling like you’re missing out on your favorite foods.

Fitness classes
Taking fitness classes can help keep you motivated, and you may even meet new friends who can help inspire you to get to class. The instructor running the class can help, too. Let him or her know your fitness goals for the winter, and they can probably help give you that extra push and also offer suggestions to help you meet those goals.

Work out at home
When it’s cold and snowy, you may be more likely to make excuses to stay home and avoid the gym. Instead, invest in a few simple items that don’t take up a lot of space but allow you to get a good workout in right in your living room — dumbbells, a medicine ball, exercise bands, etc. Try fitness DVDs and free on-demand fitness videos (if you have cable, go to the on-demand menu, select Free On Demand, then Sports then Exercise Sportskool).

Have an incentive
Check out www.dietbet.com and the app, which has games where players bet as little as $30 to meet a specific weight loss or fitness challenge within a specific time frame, and the winners split the pot. You can even start your own game and challenge your friends.

Sign up for a 5K
This will force you to get up and moving! Plus, meeting a challenge you never thought you could do is an indescribable feeling.

Don’t be so hard on yourself
If you overindulge a little bit over the holidays, don’t beat yourself up too much. The good news about getting fit and healthy is that you can always get back on track. Put it behind you, recommit yourself, have a goal and then get to work getting it done.

Lisa Steuer is the managing editor of FitnessRx for Women and FitnessRx for Men magazines. For more fitness tips, recipes, training videos and print-and-go workouts that you can take with you to the gym, visit www.fitnessrxformen.com and www.fitnessrxwomen.com.