The Road to a Healthier You
Acadiana health experts weigh in on getting healthy from head to toe.
Illustrations Jane Sanders
Maybe you’re not quite happy with what you see in the mirror. Maybe you’ve walked up the stairs, and it’s taken you more than a minute or two to stop breathing heavily. Or perhaps you’ve put on your favorite outfit, and your body and outfit are out of sync. So this is it: It’s time to take a positive step forward, and embrace a healthier lifestyle. And the time is now.
“You can’t afford not to get moving,” says Gigi Kaufman, owner of Gigi’s Downtown Fitness Club in Lake Charles. Kaufman knows first-hand the importance of physical activity. “I work with a lot of deconditioned, unhealthy people who are inactive because of their lifestyle, job, social media and depression; it’s pretty scary.”
The benefits of physical activity and exercise are endless: preventing diseases, improving your mood, helping you lose weight and enhancing longevity of life – and the list goes on and on.
Despite the benefits, however, Kaufman sees an uptick in the number of people who are becoming more sedentary.
“We are moving less, and this is not normal,” says the 35-year fitness professional. “We have to get people to move more.” And she does: Kaufman works every day with companies trying to improve the health of their employees. “I tell them not to look at exercise as losing weight; look at exercise as becoming healthy. Look at the benefits you are going to get: losing weight is just a byproduct that will happen when you are healthier.”
All of her coaching and advice begins with learning about the behaviors and lifestyles of each person she meets, something Kaufman says is imperative for success. Once she does that one-on-one assessment, a plan to become healthier is mapped out for each person.
Kaufman isn’t alone in her quest. In the heart of Cajun Country, David LeBlanc, a Lafayette personal trainer and conditioning coach, is on the same mission. “If you do not carve out time for exercise and fitness now, you will soon have to carve out time for sickness,” LeBlanc says. “If you are not healthy, you are not happy. It is the most important thing you can do for yourself before education or job hunting; you will feel good about yourself and feel healthy.”
LeBlanc says people make working out more complicated than it is, and no matter your fitness level, you just need to start moving today. “Your body doesn’t know how old you are. It just wants you to move,” he says.
From psychological strongholds to medical ailments to leading a sedentary lifestyle, there’s a host of reasons and excuses people don’t work out. Acadiana-based experts in the field are quick to tell us the most common obstacles and how to overcome them with ease.
“People have tons of excuses; the No. 1 reason, though, is they say they don’t have time, and that is the worst excuse. If it is important to you, you will make time,” says David LeBlanc. If time is stopping you from exercise, treat your fitness routine as a real appointment. “You have to say, ‘This is my health care’ – and be selfish about it; if not, that time will get stolen from you.” LeBlanc believes the best time to work out is early in the morning before you go to work and before the kids have to get up for school. “No one calls a meeting at 5 a.m., and many things come up throughout the day that rob you of exercise,” he points out.
Gigi Kaufman says finding the answer begins with looking at the person’s behavior. In a one-on-one consultation, she not only discovers the obstacles in life that keep people from wanting to be healthy, but she also finds behavioral programs that can help them overcome the problem areas. “It is a psychological thing,” she notes.
Kaufman says people who need help today are not part of the generation she dealt with in the past. “I find people today are working more than one job, they are sitting more and they are tired at the end of the day.” She also believes people have the notion you need a lot of money to get fit. “They immediately think, ‘I don’t have the finances so I can’t be healthy’, which is not the case.”
As for exercising with medical conditions, finding someone who is skilled enough to help you adjust your workout program is crucial. There are exercise moves and physical activities that you can do around injuries or problems, and a skilled coach or trainer will help you make necessary modifications.
Lafayette internist Dr. Stephen Salopek says it’s critical to consult your doctor before you exercise. “By discussing your plans with your doctor, he or she can also identify any underlying conditions that need to be evaluated before you start working out.”
Another reason many people avoid getting in shape is the intimidation factor. They are daunted when they walk into a gym and are surrounded by people who have been seemingly working out their entire lives. “They walk into a gym and they don’t know what to do,” says LeBlanc. “But the only real competition is between them and themselves.”
Kaufman says she finds many people won’t ask questions because they’re not comfortable. “It is up to the facility to make that person feel comfortable to the point they can go up to anyone and seek help and get help.”
Recipe for Success
“Making a commitment is No. 1, and doing something you can stick with.”
When personal trainer and conditioning coach LeBlanc meets one-on-one with a client, he lets them know immediately that a plan for consistency and making a lifestyle change is critical. “It is not about going on an exercise and diet binge; it is something you are going to do for the rest of your life and not just for a wedding or a vacation. There are so many people who go through the yo-yo effect of losing weight and gaining it back.”
LeBlanc takes the “principle of individuality approach” when it comes to getting fit, recognizing that everyone adapts differently. Depending on individual needs, he suggests one-on-one training, exercising with a small group of two to three, or training with a large group of 50. “In one of my classes, I have people from 16 to 65 years old, and I make changes in the program to fit each person,” he says. This is something an experienced trainer realizes, namely because “the goal at the end of every class is everybody feeling the same level of exhaustion, but the intensity level is relative to everyone’s fitness level.”
If you took 30 years to get out of shape, getting back into shape is not going to happen in a matter of weeks. LeBlanc says for some of his new clients who have never exercised before, working out one day a week is overload. In those cases, he may suggest a 20-minute duration once or twice a week. “When your body gets use to that,” adds LeBlanc, “you can increase your workout from there.”
Kaufmann says developing a realistic plan to which a person can make a lifetime commitment is key. “Once we address consistency issues with a behavioral program if necessary, we find activities they enjoy. I keep the workout very simple so they will do it and achieve success, and once they feel successful and feel good, they will want to do more. When it comes to being fit, I stick to the basics because exercise trends come and go. I want people to last for a lifetime with fitness.”
It may come as a shock, but when your mother fussed at you at the dinner table and told you to eat your peas, she really did know what she was talking about.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (and not just Mom!), eating lots of fruits and vegetables can reduce risks for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and Type-2 diabetes. They’re also a good source of potassium for healthy bones.
As the dietary guidelines for Americans focus on more fruits and vegetables in our diets, more juice bars are opening throughout the country, including south Louisiana. The FDA now recommends up to two cups of fruits for men and women per day, and when it comes to vegetables, the suggestion is two-and-a-half cups for women and three for men.
In our fast-paced lives, often complicated by the abundant temptations of south Louisiana cuisine, it’s difficult to make sure we give our bodies the proper amount of fruits and vegetables. Juice and smoothie bars offer a quick, convenient way to supply our bodies with those nutrients.
Patti Howell, a Holistic Health Coach and owner of The Beet juice bar in Lafayette, knows firsthand the power of blending fruits and vegetables. Some of her regular customers are fighting life-threatening diseases like cancer and pick up their cold press juices every week.
“We believe we are what we drink,” says Howell. She blends pure, natural, unpasteurized juices, tonics and superfood smoothies which are chock-full of nutrients and living enzymes that help digestion. In her cold-pressed concoctions, Howell uses locally grown organic fruits and vegetables, and the formula for success is working: her business has grown rapidly, and she now supplies many area fitness centers with her juices.
Whether you’re working out, or you’re simply on-the-go and you need a snack or a meal replacement, cold-pressed juice is a healthy alternative meal or snack option. “It is more important than ever to take responsibility for your own self-care,” confirms Howell, “and we are providing those tools for a healthy lifestyle.”
There’s a plethora of physical activities that can boost your brain power, too: Movements like aerobics and dancing take coordination. Exercises with complicated agility movements and different footwork patterns are especially beneficial.
Amber Berry, owner of Twisted Sisters, a spin, yoga and Pilates studio in Houma, offers among many classes including a new “booty barre” class that is not only a fun way to get in shape but also a great way to boost your brain fitness. “It is a fantastic combination of ballet, yoga, Pilates and barre work. Any level can do it. We do it to music, and it’s fun for any fitness level.
In addition to physical movements increasing brain power, staying mentally active by playing games can help strengthen connections between brain cells. Add games that you enjoy to your weekly routine, such as: Sudoku, Boggle, Scrabble, Simon and/or crosswords and jigsaw puzzles to keep your brain active.
Also, taking a class in something new that interests you, joining a book club and simply talking to friends regularly are all ways to keep you brain active.
No single ingredient from the health tips mentioned above will get the job done. Experts agree that all elements – physical, diet, mental – need to be come into play in order for you to become a stronger, healthier and improved person.