Alexandra Williams, MA and Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Back in 1983, I was invited by Kymberly to come to West Berlin and join her in teaching at a club that offered a new kind of program – aerobics! As we had grown up with dance and soccer, it sounded like an ideal way to travel and earn money.
Kymberly told me to take a few classes at the Jane Fonda Studio (I lived in L.A. at the time) so that I could figure out what the aerobics hoopla was all about. Besides learning some cardio moves and instructional tips, my forays to the Jane Fonda classes taught me a lot about spot poaching. People really like “their” spots in the group fitness room! But I digress.
When I flew to Berlin, my sis spent the week giving me teaching tips so I’d be ready for my first class. The two that really stuck with me were, “If you forget what comes next, do eight more of whatever you’re currently doing,” and “Smile and make eye contact.” I still use those tips on the instructors I mentor and train.
Thanks to her, I got to live and work in Berlin, including a stint on the U.S. military’s TV channel there, demonstrating exercises. If only Kymberly and I had owned video cameras back then!!
When I got back to the States, I taught aerobics as a way to make money while I studied Russian at San Diego State University. What started as a side job then turned into a 30-year (and still going strong) career. When IDEA Health and Fitness Association needed fitness writers, my sister recommended me, and I’ve now had hundreds of articles published (and am an editor too). I’ve traveled to many parts of the world as a fitness leader, and met thousands of active, happy people. Even better, I’ve met thousands of inactive people who became active once they found how much joy and energy they got from moving and exercising. More importantly, my boys have spent their entire lives as part of an active family that values health. They see movement and good nutrition as normal.
If Kymberly hadn’t talked me into moving to Berlin, I doubt I would have become an instructor. Upon reflection, it’s funny how one seemingly minor decision led to an entire lifestyle. I live #FitClean.
Remind me to tell you some of the funny stories about Alexandra learning to cue aerobics in German. Or the time I borrowed her workout gear without asking for one of the TV episodes she was not in. Oops – forgot she planned to watch the show.
Anyway, my fitness inspiration is my mom. Growing up in the 60’s in Hermosa Beach, CA was a lot of fun and the decade we got a black and white TV. But that inspir-poopy mom of ours limited our tv time to two hours … per WEEK! From a list of approved shows. What’s a baby boomer girl to do with only 4 siblings, a big front and back yard, a ping pong table, and a trampoline when she can’t watch the telly? Why, play and fight outdoors of course!
Our mom taught modern and performance dance when we were young. Twice a week she would take us all with her to the dance studio, where we’d join in the classes and productions. That meant we also rehearsed at home, made up dances for each other, and generally leapt about the house with dramatic flair and em-PHA-sis. Always moving, always moving.
As well, mom (and dad) encouraged us all to play sports. Keep in mind this was pre-Title IX when sports did not really exist much for girls. Heck, girls had to wear dresses or skirts to our elementary school — no pants or shorts allowed. In a family with four girls and one boy (the baby, poor thing), my mom was quite progressive for her time. She instilled in us a confidence and belief that girls could do everything boys could do, both academically and athletically. When AYSO (American Soccer Youth Organization) FINALLY formed the first ever girls’ soccer teams, my parents enrolled Alexandra, our younger sister, and me lickety split. Around then, my mom went back to college to get a Master’s Degree in Dance (the first of a few advanced degrees). So you can see that she valued movement. Or time away from a passel of kids. We’ve always wondered.
Never once did she nag any of us about our weight, though she did have strict rules about food. No sodas, max of one piece of candy per day (Two after Halloween. Whoo hoo! Live it up!), no sugary cereals (“Please let us have Captain Crunch or Sugar Pops, please!), dessert only after dinner. Mom herself was never on a diet, nor did I ever hear her express dissatisfaction with her own body. The focus was on how our bodies moved and functioned, not how they looked. Only in hindsight do I realize she was an anomaly among her peers in that she had no eating or weight issues.
When I left for Berlin after college, ultimately teaching at the first aerobics studio on the European continent, my mom gave me great advice: “Have a wonderful time; make lots of memories; be open to new things; find many adventures; don’t fall in love and stay abroad!”
Yup, even though she’d miss me, she supported my going far away — first learning to teach fitness, then training new instructors throughout the world. But I heard my mom’s message – move across the globe, move to music, move others to move. Then come back to the States!
Our mom just celebrated her 84th birthday. Guess how? She drove herself to her weekly acting class followed by her twice weekly aqua aerobics class. I think it was the two birthday cakes that inspired her. She does have a sweet tooth these days. She’s earned it! Thanks mom for inspiring me to be active all my life!
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Mamma mia. What are we to do if we want to get more fit? Are you confuzzled yet? I know I get overwhelmed by the barrage of seemingly conflicting advice.
Just the other day an email arrived in our Fun and Fit inbox entitled: “Newsflash: Cardio is Dead.” As a longtime fitness pro and proponent of aerobic exercise, I was bothered by this announcement in a cranky, “oh, great, now people will exercise even less” kind of way.
Is cardio really “dead?” Or are we going to be soon if we stop doing aerobic exercise and drop even more activity from our lives? For years we’ve been told to work out aerobically 5-6 days per week. Now we’re told to forego it. What fitness tips should we follow and what is hype we can safely ignore? How can you know what actions to take (aside from reading our blog and sending us your questions to address)?
One trick is to check definitions and terms before accepting the headline or sound bite. What is really being touted? In this example, the article discussed the difference between long, slow, steady state endurance exercise compared with intervals of high and mid-intensity cardio. The gist of the argument was that long duration, low intensity cardio doesn’t train the heart to build resistance to stress. To reduce the risk of heart disease, we need to alternate intense exertion with active recovery periods.
Now we’re getting somewhere. We are really comparing Steady State Cardio to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) relative to stress resistance. Two considerably different types of workouts. The low and slow cardio approach was once crowned queen of all “Fat Burning Zones,” which has been rightly sent to the “Dying Myth Zone.” Certainly a ton of studies and headlines have courted the new ruler, HIIT. (HI)It’s alive! But is the former type really “dead?” Or as the participants in our group fitness classes say “just tell me what I am supposed to do. Is low intensity cardio out and high intensity now in?”
Which brings me to the second key question we need to pose when faced with bold, exciting, eye catching, sparkly-flashy headlines:
Sticking with this example, why do you do cardio workouts in the first place? To lose weight? To reduce menopause symptoms? To complete a marathon? To avoid those darn heart attacks that run in your family? To climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower … and back down… after swimming there from New York and across the English Channel?
Your particular, personal, prioritized goals will guide you through the maze of confusing headlines. Let’s say your top goal is to lose weight for an upcoming trip. Then high intensity cardio might be your best choice and the low, slow cardio needs to retire before you do. But what if a high priority is to stay cognitively aware and sharp as long as possible? Then low intensity cardio is NOT dead and may be what keeps you sharp as you live longer and smarter. For brain boosting, casual cardio rules! Love live cardio! For the pounds-away program, long live the other cardio! Can you see why you have to be willing to spend a little time and attention when faced with the latest and faddiest media bites?
Tempting as it is to believe headlines, the juicy bits are in the details: what’s really being discussed (definition of terms) and who is this news really for (goal dependent)? Option three is also good:
That’s why we write this blog — to help solve your workout dilemmas and answer your fitness questions. By the way, if you want to really rock out at sorting through information overload flotsam and jetsam, read Understanding Studies from our friend and fellow FitFluential Ambassador, Tamara Grand.
So hail to the queens of cardio (well, yes, I do mean my sister and me, and YOU too!) Play well and work out successfully in the cardio court that is right for you.
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
So what news about boosting your brain through exercise did we glean from our brush with an intellectual celebrity?
(Ok, Dr. Ratey actually said “anti-aging,” but we are not against aging. We are for aging as actively as possible, so I reworded the phrase. Literary license, people!). Dr. Ratey stressed this heavily in his book and presentation: nothing compares to the effect of movement when it comes to living life “younger” as nothing makes our brain cells work harder than exercise.
While we may not see results right away from our workouts, we reap MENTAL benefits within moments. The super important neurotransmitter is BDNF — Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF activates learning when we perform cardio. As Dr. Ratey (aka, my BFF and dinner buddy “John”) says, “BDNF is a crucial biological link between thought, emotions, and movement. Our neurotransmitters offer ‘cerebellum training’ during and after each aerobic bout.” That clear-headed feeling we get from working out is literally a head full of enhanced brain power and activity. Dr. Ratey offered this “insta-result” fact as a way to motivate ourselves to move more.
New experiences and challenges enhance our cognitive skills (be smarter, stave off the odds of dementia, keep our memory strong, add brain matter and circuitry throughout life). Maybe we take a walk that goes left instead of right; or we change up our morning routine somehow. Perhaps we add intensity or complexity to an action we are already performing. Apparently the experiences we can create for ourselves to stay mentally strong do not have to be huge or entirely new. Even small challenges rewire our brains for the better. If you are in a workout rut, snap out of it (to quote Cher’s character in Moonstruck).
All mammals play, so the more we can bring joy and playfulness into our workouts, the better off our brains will be. At the very least, play reduces stress. Lower chronic stress levels are related to a healthier life and stronger brain. In short, make exercise fun. Does this mantra from Fun and Fit sound familiar? If your current routine A) doesn’t exist; B) is not fun; C) is ho-hum routine, then challenge yourself to try new activities until you find the ones you enjoy. Like how you can combine tips 3 and 4 here?
Those were the highlights from Dr. Ratey’s talk. If you are keen to get even more keen, read Spark, ideally right after working out… at Rancho la Puerta! That would be a really smart move!
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