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Double time New health programs cater to those who find it hard to invest their time in exercise

It's just past 3 on a weekday afternoon, and school teachers from Nativity of Mary School in Williamsville are minutes into their staff meeting when principal Cherie Ansuini directs the attention of her colleagues to the video screen at the front of the room.

Without missing a stride, the roomful of teachers begin to watch the video. Some reach for their water bottles. One wipes away sweat. Another checks his elliptical screen to see how many calories he's burned.

Call it a walking conference, where participants hop on treadmills and elliptical trainers rather than taking seats at a meeting table. They sip water -- not coffee -- and leave their suits at home. At the Healthy Living Support Network on Main Street in Williamsville, a new approach to wellness is stressed.

"Exercise is such a part of everyone's life now, that incorporating it into a meeting doesn't seem too off-base," said science teacher Jennifer Kiss, 32. "Distraction is good. I don't have to think about me sweating and working so hard. I would give it an A. When you spend all day in the classroom, coming to a meeting outside the classroom is cool."

With obesity rates soaring, more and more people are looking for new ways to incorporate exercise into their lives. Locally, some fitness centers have responded with innovative programs.

*Healthy Living Support Center, 8566 Main St. Williamsville (www.gohealthy.us/580-3402).

Distinguishing factor: A walking conference room with elliptical trainers and treadmills.

Other services: Nutrition education and counseling, behavior counseling and fitness instruction. Also, Walking Book Clubs, Bike Book Clubs and Bike Room Movie Night.

Staff: Registered dietitian, licensed social worker, certified personal trainer.

Membership: Family and individual packages available, as well as business package.

When Jennifer Baran opened her Williamsville wellness center earlier this month, she had multitasking in mind.

"There's a certain group of people who sign up with a gym in January and stop going by February," said the licensed social worker. "We're targeting the individuals for whom the traditional system didn't work, providing a taste of physical activity while they're doing other things. Some people need the distraction."

That's why on this day the Walking Conference Room is full of elementary school teachers who are exercising while conducting a staff meeting.

"I'm a multitasker," said Amy Peters, a sixth-grade teacher. "It's nice to be up and moving, and we were still able to focus and talk. This was great, especially at the end of the day. It got everybody motivated."

Another day would see book club members walking their way through a novel discussion. Bike Room Movie Night, on the other hand, would feature pedal recumbent bikes for movie buffs who can exercise and eat popcorn simultaneously.

"There's more than one component to living a healthy lifestyle," Baran said. "I started out thinking I could do supportive counseling service to help people lose weight or implement healthier lifestyle changes, and then it evolved into a group approach."

Baran's wellness center also offers nutrition counseling, support groups, fitness education and motivational support to clients while they exercise on treadmills, ellipticals or recumbent cycles. Her "Exer-Buddy Registry" matches individuals looking for exercise partners.

"Imagine a work space on a treadmill," Baran said. "Walking desks! People are really excited about the idea of doing two things at once although healthy cooking classes may be a stretch."

*Medically Oriented Gym, 1801 Grand Island Blvd., Grand Island (www.gimog.com/773-1600)

Distinguishing factor: On-staff physical therapists coordinate with doctors on a patient's health and promote long-term exercise programs with supervision.

Staff: Physical therapists, certified personal trainers and fitness class instructors.

Services: Fully equipped gym for medically compromised as well as healthy members.

Membership: Open fitness facility includes full gym and variety of group classes. Also by physican referral for physical therapy/exercise.

Group fitness: Variety of classes, including Silver Sneakers.

On Grand Island, the MOG (pronounced mawg and standing for Medically Oriented Gym) brings a medical component to the fitness table. Owner Russell Certo is a physical therapist who has been treating patients for 26 years.

"I would treat the patients and then pass them off to a gym with some instructions and hope these instructions would be followed," said Certo. "What we found was that they were not getting individualized service to protect their condition. They were unsure and intimidated by the regular gym, so we took the service we provided in a medical clinic and tried to adapt it to the fitness side of our business."

The behavior modification program works with physicians who write prescriptions for exercise for patients with obesity-related illnesses as well as diabetes, hypertension and post-cancer care. After an assessment by a physical therapist, a fitness program is developed, and once the patient demonstrates confidence and independence, supervision is transferred to a care coordinator, who monitors the progress.

JoAnne Mills was prediabetic early last year when she received a prescription for exercise from her doctor.

"I know I've been overweight and out of shape for a long time," said the 57-year-old nurse. "Plus I'm getting older so it was about time. I had been thinking about exercising, but this was the catalyst that said: 'Get your butt in gear.' "

But Mills -- currently under treatment for breast cancer -- found the atmosphere of many local health clubs less than inviting.

"I was a couch potato before I came here, totally," Mills admitted, during a break from her cycling workout. "Part of me was wondering if there was just going to be these young people here, robust and on the machines. I feel comfortable. Actually, after a couple of weeks I started feeling more strength."

She has enough strength, she noted with a smile, that she can now put her pants on without having to sit down. Mills credits the MOG's yoga class with helping to restore her balance and self-esteem.

"I'm excited to know I'm moving on in life," Mills said. "I was ripped emotionally, but I'm back now. I just noticed there were muscles in my feet!"

When the MOG opened in 2005 the toughest sell, surprisingly, was not to members but to physicians who were reluctant to write prescriptions for exercise. Dr. Bill Ruth, who practices family medicine on Grand Island, signed on.

"I always tell my patients there are three things that a physician has a hard time getting people to buy into: Quit smoking, lose weight and exercise," Ruth said. "The ongoing trend is that people are more open to exercise, 2.5 hours a week which is really only 20 minutes a day. In most cases, exercise will help medical conditions including diabetes and hypertension."

At age 69, musician Milton Kicklighter has played the French horn with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for 42 years. Problems with his rotator cuff, he figured, stemmed from the position he maintained when holding his horn. While his neurologist had originally ordered a cortisone shot, the exercise Kicklighter opted for would eventually save his life.

"One day when I was working out, I noticed a tiny bit of discomfort in my chest," Kicklighter recalled, "so my doctor ordered a stress test, which I flunked."

Bypass surgery last August paved the way for Kicklighter's return to the treadmill, where he spends an hour exercising three days a week.

"I sleep better, feel stronger," he said. "I try to eat healthy, but it's almost impossible to lose weight when you live by yourself."

e-mail: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

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