Who doesn’t want more energy, agility, muscle tone and strength paired with reduced anxiety, feeling healthier, better balance, a flatter stomach and a tighter tushie? Yes, it requires exercise but nowadays getting in shape and staying in shape can be fun. No, really. Fitness centers, gyms, zumba studios, personal trainers and yoga and tai chi teachers across the Valley are staying in business by making working out fun and, in many cases, much more affordable.
Fitness has been called the strongest predictor of longevity. Exercising more helps you live longer, many doctors tell their patients. It improves cardiovascular health and mental health. It staves off problems associated with diabetes, osteoporosis and a long list of ailments that would rival the spiel of an old-fashioned radio quack selling snake oil and goat glands. Besides, a flabby body does not have to be a natural aspect of aging. And baby boomers, of course, are convinced that they will not age like previous generations.
Being a Role Model
“I decided I wanted to be healthier for my kids and set a good example,” Dr.Octavio Elizondo said. “I couldn’t expect them to be active and healthy if I wasn’t myself.”
The San Benito dentist now spends at least two hours daily on a spinning machine at Max Fitness. That exercise was a major factor in his losing over 150 pounds.
“When my daughters are visiting me, they are regulars here every day.”
Max Fitness is a Valley-grown, family–oriented chain, established in 1998, that has six fitness centers spread between Edinburg, Harlingen, McAllen and Mission. As with most gyms, the New Year brings them a surge of new members eager to shape up. “I expect all the Resolutionaries to come back in January,” said general manager Anthony De La Garza, a retired body builder and former Mr. Texas light heavy weight champion.
The fitness centers’ draws are unlimited use of the facility with its 150 pieces of cardio equipment – treadmills, steppers and spinning machines—and strength training equipment (weights) combined with an affordable, sanitary, family atmosphere, a floor to ceiling window wall that lets in daylight and the non-intimidating staff. Amenities include classes, a separate women’s area for those who prefer privacy, babysitting and personal trainers. The clientele is remarkable when it comes to etiquette, De La Garza reported.
Among those working out are people who were sent to exercise by their doctors with the goal of finishing their rehabilitation and recovery from strokes, heart attacks and other problems. Exercise is noted for also improving overall wellbeing, their doctors have told them.
“Most individuals love to stay toned. They just want to be healthy,” De La Garza said, and they are pleased to be looking good in jeans. A fit-looking woman named Sarah doing triceps extensions reps said she workouts five times a week. “I like what it does for me. It’s very healthy.”
Max Fitness isn’t the only Valley fitness concept that has been successful. The first Curves, a women-only, 30-minute workout circuit, was opened in 1992 in Harlingen by Gary and Diane Heavin. Within 10 years, the strength training and cardio program — celebrated for its “no makeup, no men, no mirrors” philosophy — had 7,000 locations, including studios in Harlingen, Weslaco, Edinburg, and Mission. Now an international fitness leader, Curves has all its exercise equipment fabricated in the Valley.
National names like Gold’s Gym vie with mom- and-pop businesses such as Pharr Gym and Olympus Gym for the attention of health conscious Valley residents of all ages. Nationally about 15 percent of Americans work out at a gym.
Dancing your heart out
At Zumba Fitness in Mission, the comment that owner Martha Saldivar hears most frequently is, “It’s fun!” For six years, she has been leading classes where people energetically dance to regatton, salsa and merengue tunes.
“They like that they are dancing, having fun and burning 300 to 600 calories an hour with Zumba,” she said.
Saldivar teaches five classes a day, four days a week, because Zumba is such a popular way to get in shape. Her dancers range from school kids to seniors in their 70s. They often convince their friends to share the good times working out.
In contrast, the benefits of one-on-one personal training are readily visible among the buff clients of Renea Perez. Her Bod Squad gives a woman an intense, one-hour workout that mixes cardio, strength and endurance. “Okay, relax for 30 seconds,” she has told a panting client.
“I train people who are very busy. To me, it’s better if you take the time to do your training right,” Perez said. “I change up things in their routine, because I get bored easily, too.”
She is a certified prenatal trainer, which it turns out, helps women both during delivery and getting back into shape afterwards.
The paths to healthy exercise include yoga and tai chi, which strengthen muscles as well as increasing balance and flexibility. Those workouts are gentler on aging joints, but still can be strenuous.
Nationally, some gyms are losing clients because the networking element has disappeared. There are reports of less camaraderie than before, as more people are plugged into iPods and fixated on screens. Then again, some of those working out focus on getting in, getting it done, and getting out to the next item in their busy days.
Nevertheless, the Valley’s variety of exercise venues allows most everyone to find their level of comfort. One rainy afternoon, treadmill walkers worked out in quiet companionship, all in a row, instead of scattering to distant machines.
What keeps a person motivated to continue working out? Having fun with interesting classes and reaching to accomplish more than you have before are important elements. But feeling healthy and looking healthy are the most powerful incentives.
Exercise. Live long and prosper in 2012.
Cover story by Eileen Mattei