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Getting Fit Now

You don’t need to know a secret password or special code. It’s not complicated or expensive. Local Happenings spoke with fitness expert Debbie Swigert to “get the skinny” on developing an exercise regimen that sticks.

Swigert has seen exercise trends come, go, and come back again. As the owner and operator of Lafayette Health Club for 30 years, she has kept pace with the ever-evolving fitness world, transitioning from the step aerobics-crazed ‘80’s to providing her clients with a variety of exercise options today including weight and resistance training, spin, yoga, pilates and more. “Now it’s back to basics: sprinting, pull ups, sit ups, balancing with weights,” says the petite, lightly tanned and decidedly buff Swigert. “And low-impact aerobics have made a come back as well,” she adds, referring to the popularity of classes like Zumba, a workout choreographed to the great beats of Latin and international music.

Lafayette Health Club is like a second home and a big extended family for Swigert. She took over at age 25 when it had 62 members – all women. Three years later the club went co-ed and along the way picked up additional floor space. Today the club occupies 5,000 square-feet and has 650 members.

What does fitness veteran Debbie Swigert recommend to jumpstart and maintain your exercise routine?

Get in the Habit

“You have to make an appointment for your workout,” says Swigert. “Just like any other appointment you schedule, a hair cut or lunch with friends, you need to get exercise on the calendar.” Daily exercise has always been natural for the former competitive swimmer. (Her specialty was the grueling 200-meter butterfly – hard core!) But Swigert acknowledges that while she was always drawn to the pool, it’s often not easy and takes time to develop a regular fitness regimen. She strongly encourages clients to work with a personal trainer, even if it is just to get started. In addition to the education and motivation the trainer provides, being accountable to someone really helps.

Keep it Fresh

“We offer lots of classes,” says Swigert, who believes exercise programs need to be customized to keep clients interested and coming back. She’s morphed classes together to provide variety and a full body workout. For example, her spin/strength class combines the lower body bike workout with intervals of upper body work using a rope pull. Swigert designates the interval and exercise while riders rotate.

And it’s not always about being out of breath. “So many people are still in the mindset that cardio is everything,” says Swigert, “but strength exercises are important to working the muscles.” While it is best to have a bit of both, if you have to choose between an hour of cardio or an hour of strength, Swigert votes to go with strength.

Feel the Mind-Body Connection

The health benefits of exercise may be obvious but once exercise becomes a habit, Swigert points to the feel-good factor. “You get hooked on that endorphin release,” says the exercise guru. Endorphins, the body’s natural chemicals that are released through exercise, boost your mood. Plus, it promotes a positive self-image. “The feeling of accomplishment, meeting a goal, sticking to your exercise routine makes you feel good about yourself,” she adds.

Be Ready to Adapt

Swigert has cultivated a loyal clientele over the years, many of the late baby boomer generation who are now in their 40’s to 60’s. “People come in with back or joint issues, knee replacements. They want to keep exercising and have to figure out the best way to keep moving without aggravating or causing injuries,” says Swigert. She had to hang up her goggles and cap when she was sidelined by a shoulder injury. Now she swims for fitness only. “I don’t like to exercise by myself,” says Swigert, who misses the camaraderie of swimming as part of a team. “But I knew I could let it go.” She’s replaced the pool with the road and trail and loves biking and hiking with her husband.

Recruiting exercise buddies can be key to establishing a new fitness routine. Small group training, a trainer led workout with four to six people, provides the benefits of personal training at a more affordable rate. Working out with others can be motivating and fun. “Our classes are like small group training,” says Swigert, “That’s really where we excel.”

After all that exercise, now it’s time to eat…

Food lovers (and who isn’t one?) celebrate the wonderful smells, textures and tastes of a meal. But for the human body, says nutrition specialist Theresa Tsingis, food is simply information. The body, primarily the liver, discerns good food from bad and decides if we are going to be in fat burning or fat storage mode. The basis of good nutrition, says Tsingis, who has her masters in nutrition and has maintained a practice in Lafayette, Lamorinda Nutrition, for over 20 years, is tied directly to how and what we eat, drink and think.

Frequent, Focused Meals

Eat every few hours. “That’s the best way to get rid of food cravings and keep your blood sugar stable,” says Tsingis. With each small meal have some protein (a couple of string cheeses, a chicken leg, a half of a cup of hummus, a turkey roll with Swiss cheese), some veggies, and maybe a piece of fruit. Most importantly, keep refined carbohydrates (white rice, pasta and bread) to the bare minimum. “We don’t need a lot of grains,” says Tsingis. “These are empty foods that promote fat storage and do not provide a lot of vitamins.” She is a much bigger fan of vegetables, especially the cruciferous kind like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

Drinking Simple

“Water and green tea are best,” says Tsingis. And as far as alcohol, she advises moderation, like a glass of wine 3 times a week. “Alcohol is a hidden source of sugar; it turns to sugar as your body tries to get rid of it,” she says, “Plus it increases your appetite if you drink while you eat.”

Think Good Thoughts

“Stress causes us to get fat,” says Tsingis. Increased stress causes blood sugar levels to drop, which leads to food cravings and ultimately weight gain. On a hectic day, who doesn’t find themselves heading for a sugary, whipped cream-laden caffeine drink around 3:00 p.m.? Finding ways to better deal with everyday stress, like meditation and deep breathing, are essential to regulating blood sugar and weight.

Stay the Course

•  Set your watch or cell phone alarm to remind you to eat every 3 to 4 hours.

•  Stock up on snacks (protein bars, nuts, dried fruit) and store them within easy reach – in the glove compartment of your car, at your desk, in your handbag.

•  Bag the calorie count. It’s more important to pay attention to the type of food you eat.

•  Don’t look at the scale more than once a week. Watch your waistline instead.

Strategies for the Holidays

•  Don’t starve during the day saving up for a party (never works).

•  Eat food that you like before going out.

•  Hit the buffet before the bar. Drinking alcohol increases appetite.

•  Be selective. Splurge (eat a small sampling) on what you really like.

Debbie Swigert owns and operates Lafayette Health Club located at 85 Lafayette Circle in Lafayette, www.lafayettehealthclub.com, phone (925) 284-7732.

Theresa Tsingis, DCMS specializes in functional nutrition, emphasizing prevention, medical research and therapeutic lifestyle changes. Her practice is located at 251 Lafayette Circle #240 in Lafayette. Contact her at (925) 283-9355 or DrTsingis@comcast.net.


Andrea Firth is a freelance writer based in Moraga with her husband, two teens, and a dog named Pepsi.