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Well, well, well

Fitness and nutrition course takes a big-picture approach to health

When it comes to fitness, appearances can be deceiving. It’s harder to feel good than to look good these days, and it’s even harder to do either for very long without understanding the basics of wellness.

Back in 1998, Health Canada committed itself to the goal of reducing physical inactivity in Canada by 10 per cent by 2003, thereby reducing the burden that poor health and our couch potato lifestyle is placing on our economy.

It is estimated that our lack of overall fitness costs Canadian businesses $2.8 billion each year in employee absenteeism. And while it is sometimes difficult to prove the correlation between certain illnesses, such as coronary diseases and type II diabetes to lifestyle, it is believed that at least $3 billion in national health care costs can be attributed to poor health.

When Health Minister Allan Rock addressed the annual convention of Canadian Association of Fitness Professionals (Can-Fit-Pro) last August, he enlisted the services of the organization and its thousands of certified fitness professionals to help achieve the 10 per cent goal.

"You have direct access not only to the already converted, but also to inactive Canadians who have yet to understand or buy into active living," said Rock. One in three Canadians is overweight, according to the Health Minister. Type II diabetes is one of the fastest growing preventable diseases in the country, resulting in approximately 5,500 deaths each year.

"I’m looking to you for advice on targeted and innovative strategies to reach those people, to increase their understanding that fitness goes beyond achieving a certain body shape or weight. They need to recognize that it plays an important role in achieving better long-term health. And I’m looking to you to influence others."

In Whistler, the local Can-Fit-Pro representative is Darlene Samer, a Nutrition and Wellness specialist who is excited to have an opportunity to teach the public what it means to be well.

"I’m excited about this program, and I don’t usually get excited about fitness programs or diets," says Samer. "I’m quite skeptical of most things, any fad diet or new exercise program – they may work for some people, but my question to them always is ‘Can you sustain them? Where are you going to be in six months? Do you understand what you’re doing to your body?’ If I don’t believe in a program I can’t teach it."

Most fad diets and exercises deliver short-term benefits, a loss in weight or an increase in muscle mass, but they rarely last. The only real way to get fit and stay there is to adopt a complete healthy lifestyle, "which is hard for people to do because there is just so much conflicting information out there," says Samer.

Body Into Balance, the Can-Fit-Pro program Samer is offering from April 27 to 29 focuses on the true basics of health – fitness and nutrition information that all doctors and health professionals can agree on, that probably won’t change in a million years. Health Canada provided the information, and Can-Fit-Pro has organized it into programs for fitness instructors, personal trainers, nutrition and wellness specialists – anyone who is on the front lines of the fitness industry.

"Just because you eat well and exercise doesn’t mean you’re healthy," says Samer, who has taught aerobics for nine years, and health and nutrition for the past four years. "People can be stressed out or too busy to take time out for themselves. Is this a health risk? Yes. Is it taking years off your life? You’d better believe it.

"This program will help put everything into balance – it’s not just about low-fat foods or about exercise, it puts all of the piece together to help you find a balance. It’s your big picture."

Body Into Balance is an in-depth look at the basics of wellness, nutrition, weight management, sports nutrition, vegetarian nutrition, stress management, holistic practices and therapies, meditation, and a lot more.

It’s essentially the same 22-hour course that is required to become a Can-Fit-Pro certified Nutrition and Wellness Specialist, but Samer believes that the information and skills the course provides should be accessible to everybody.

"It’s not brain surgery, it’s basic health and fitness," says Samer. "And it’s more of a workshop environment than a lecture hall. Nobody remembers facts like they remember experiences, so I’d like people to learn and experience the ideas in the course for themselves.

"If they want more information, that’s great, they always have the guide to go back to. Rather than just give people the tools, I’d like to teach people how to use them."

Samer will invite students to share their own experiences, and will lead participants through a variety of challenges to increase their understanding of the basic concepts in the guide, which you will get to keep at the end of the course.

"You need to find your healthy weight, stress levels, exercise routines, and to be happy with that," says Samer. For example, a woman who weighed 120 pounds before having a child and 150 pounds afterwards should not expect to be able to lose 30 pounds – once you gain fat cells, you can’t lose them. You can shrink them, however, but you should have reasonable expectations as to how far.

Samer compares a healthy person to a wavy line superimposed over a straight line which indicates your optimum health. Stress, weight, and fitness levels fluctuate slightly over and below the line, but the line is basically flat.

"That’s balance," says Samer.

An unhealthy person tends to fluctuate in peaks and valleys, losing 10 pounds and gaining 15, binge eating chocolate then fad dieting to correct the balance, going jogging after spending two months on the couch, trying to relax after thriving on the stress.

"It’s far better for your health to try and maintain a balance in your everyday life than to go up and down like this," says Samer. "The only way to do that is to look at your big picture and allow yourself to be bad now and then.

Go out and drink a lot of beer if you have to, or if you like chocolate now and then or a plate of french fries, go for it. If you’re busy at work, then by all means miss your evening jog and don’t feel bad about it. It’s part of your big picture.

"Most diets and exercise fads fail in the end because people cannot sustain them. They’re hard to follow, and if people can’t follow the routine every day, they tend to stop altogether. It’s better to have a healthy lifestyle with a few allowances than a strict regimen that is stressing you out."

Attaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t an overnight process, but before you can go forward, you have to slowly deprogram yourself, take small steps backwards until you are in a position to build the lifestyle you want. If you have four cups of coffee in the morning, for example, try to wean yourself down to two a day before you even think of going cold turkey. If you haven’t jogged in a few years, start by walking – it’s good for you and gets you used to setting aside blocks of time to devote to fitness.

The cost of the three day Body Into Balance course is $149 if you reserve a spot by April 13, including $99 for the course and $50 for the comprehensive Can-Fit-Pro nutrition and wellness guide. After the 13th, it’s an additional $25. Applications for the course, which is run through Can-Fit-Pro, are available by contacting Samer at 938-4883.

It will run on Friday evening, all day Saturday and all day Sunday at Meadow Park.