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Keep your exercise regimen during the holidays with a new routine

Renae Sykes knows the fitness pitfalls of the holiday season.

“We’re constantly running to pick up food, pick up gifts, prepare the house, prepare for the snow,” said Sykes, of Amherst.

Middle school programs and concerts involving her 13-year-old daughter, Lilly, also are part of the holiday mix, as are some unpredictable schedule shifts for her husband Todd, a foreman with the town highway department.

Despite the uncertainty, one thing doesn’t change much: Sykes’ workout schedule. She has an example to set as one of the personal trainers at the Independent Healthy Family Branch YMCA.

Sykes recommends 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week throughout the year – including during the holidays – and strength training at least twice a week.

Do so, she said, and you lower stress, fight off unwanted pounds and enter the new year in better shape.

“You lose quite a bit if you take off time during the holidays – somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 percent of your well-being,” Sykes said. “And when you lose it, it takes twice as long to gain back that fitness level.”

Sykes and her colleagues at the Amherst-based YMCA Buffalo Niagara branch offered several tips to make exercise one of your priorities in the coming weeks – and have fun along the way.

[RELATED STORY: Stretch your way to better health]


Personal trainer Renae Sykes works with Joe Dunn, of Cheektowaga, on the exercise bike at the Independent Health Y.

Personal trainer Renae Sykes works with Joe Dunn, of Cheektowaga, on the exercise bike at the Independent Health Y.

Joe Dunn, 78, of Cheektowaga, is a retired accountant who joined the Independent Health YMCA after it opened almost four years ago. The facility alongside the Erie Community College North Campus includes a 12,000-square-foot wellness center with 100 cardiovascular machines, stationary strength equipment, cario theater entertainment and free weights.

“I’ve been pretty routine with my workouts since I got in here,” Dunn said. He works out three days a week, spending 10 minutes on the treadmill to warm up, then 30 to 45 minutes on weights, then 20 minutes on a bike. During time away from the gym, he tries to walk 2 to 2½ miles a day. (Other walk at track on the second floor of the Y.) Dunn’s fitness regimen landed him a job as a strength instructor, who shows other seniors how to properly use the Y equipment.

Now is a great time of year for those unfamiliar with a fitness center to check one out, said Sandy Keeney, active older adult and healthy living program coordinator at the Independent Health branch. Many gyms will offer a guest pass so test the exercise waters – which could lead to something more meaningful.

“We keep our schedules pretty much the same during the holiday weeks,” Keeney said. “When people come in and see so much programming we have, I always say, ‘Try a little bit of this and a little bit of that because once you find something that you enjoy doing, you’re going to come back because it’s fun for you.’”


Loretta Kaminsky, left, has come off her cholesterol medication since she started teaching Zumba Gold about three years ago.

Loretta Kaminsky, left, has come off her cholesterol medication since she started teaching Zumba Gold three years ago.

Three years ago this December, Loretta Kaminsky, of East Amherst, lost her husband of 57 years, Allan, an attorney. “I was kind of at loose ends,” she said. “What was I going to do?”

Kaminsky had been taking Zumba classes for two decades and instructor friends at the Buffalo Athletic Club suggested she become a certified Zumba Gold instructor. They also told her about an opening to lead the low-impact dance class at the Independent Health YMCA. She landed the gig and has watched her class grow steadily three afternoons each week.

[See the Refresh Calendar here for information about upcoming fitness classes across WNY]

Kathy Cole, 71, a retired Erie County worker who lives in Clarence, is among Kaminsky’s stalwart students.

“We laugh and we sing and we forget about our troubles for an hour,” she said.

Cole gets 6,000 to 7,000 steps and burns 250 to 500 calories during each class. She also takes two cardio classes each week. She had her left knee replaced in July and was back to Zumba Gold by Labor Day. “I’m down 40 pounds since I started the classes three years ago,” she said. “Every day is important when it comes to fitness. When you get to be older, you better take care of yourself.”

Zumba Gold class members also extol the social virtues of group exercise.

Zumba Gold class members also extol the social virtues of group exercise.

Kaminsky, 80, has gone off her cholesterol drug since she started teaching. She takes no medications. Her class participants range in age from Cole’s 10-year-old granddaughter – who lives in Houston and takes the classes during holiday visits to Western New York – to a 93-year-old woman who has had two knees and a hip replaced. Others have pacemakers and knee replacements, as well.

As long as those with limitations check with their doctors, Kaminsky welcomes them. And many of the seniors go for free or very little cost because of their health insurance plans.

“I teach so that nothing can harm your hips or your knees,” she said. “We don’t jump, we don’t hop and if we turn, it’s really slow. Anybody that has any kind of age problem can come to my class. We all sing to the music. I insist there’s class participation – and they love it.”

[RELATED STORY: Dance for fun and fitness]

Low-impact classes at YMCA Buffalo Niagara branches just begin to tell the group fitness story. The branches, as well as similar centers across the region, offer classes that include High Intensity Interval Training, Pilates, spinning, strength training, tai chi, yoga and more. Regulars appreciate the exercise but also point to the social benefits. Some classes are more special than others, too. “One of the nice things about holidays is that I always bring chocolate,” said Kaminsky, who also owns Lou-retta’s Custom Chocolates. “We’re like a family and we want everybody to enjoy themselves.”


YMCA personal trainer Tom Prendergast demonstrates a chair squat.

Personal trainer Tom Prendergast demonstrates a chair squat.

“I always tell people, ‘You don’t have to exercise here at the gym,’” said Sykes, the Y personal trainer. “It can happen at home.

“I’ll squeeze in walks or a very quick half-hour workout session before or after work,” she said. She’ll tighten her abs while in her car at a stoplight, run up and down the stairs at home a few extra times to get in more steps, walk an extra loop around the grocery store before and after she shops. She will park farther than needed from the store door and take the stairs instead of the elevator.

“You want to teach, especially to your kids, that exercise is important no matter when you do it or where you do it,” Sykes said.

[RELATED STORY: Get off the couch and try these exercises]

Fellow YMCA personal trainer Tom Prendergast, 27, of the Town of Tonawanda, offered the following three exercises that can help you burn calories and keep up to fitness speed at home. Check with your doctor if you have any health concerns before then.

1. Pushups

Pushups can be done propped up on your knees or toes.

Pushups can be done propped up on your knees or toes.

Works the upper body. Put your hands on the floor, or mat, shoulder length apart. Get up onto your toes. Breathe out as you straighten your arms; exhale as you bend them and move your chest toward the ground. Do three or four sets of 10 reps each, and work up to this if you must. Modifications: Push up from your knees if it’s too hard to do it from your toes, but try to keep your lower legs and soles up toward the ceiling. Move your hands closer together to target triceps, take a wider grip to target your shoulders.

2. Chair squat

Works the lower body. Hold your arms out straight in front of you and sit down over a chair, brushing against it with your backside, then stand back up. Try to use more of your glues and upper legs, and keep pressure off your knees. “The chair will help your form,” Prendergast said. Do three or four sets of 10 reps each, and work up to this if you must. Modification: Sit in the chair for a few seconds between reps if needed.

3. Planks

Make a plank harder by lifting one foot.

Make a plank harder by lifting one foot.

Works your abs and core. Elbows and forearms down on a mat or carpet, slightly inside your shoulders. Lift off the ground, balancing on your forearms and toes. Hold the position as long as you can. Time yourself and see if you can increase the time as you go. “The main thing is to try to keep your butt down and your whole body flat,” Prendergast said. Modifications: Lift one leg to make it harder. Let your knees touch the floor to make it less challenging.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve missed a workout or gone off the nutritional rails with a cheat meal,” Prendergast said.

“At the holidays, it’s easy to do that,” he said. “Just make sure you get back on track.”

Resources at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Libraries to help you stay fit

h-holidays“Eat Move Sleep: How small choices lead to big changes,” by Tom Rath

“Finding Life’s Secret Sauce: How to fit good food, fitness, and fun into your crazy, busy schedule,” Melinda Hinson Neely

“Fit in 5,” Gregory P. Whyte

“Healthy Holidays: Total health entertaining all year round,” Marilu Henner

“Joyous Health: Eat and live well without dieting,” Joy McCarthy

“Lean in 15: 15-minute meals and workouts to keep you lean and healthy,” Joe Wicks

“Spent: End exhaustion and feel great again,” Frank Lipman

Readers might also like to visit the system’s Exercise and Fitness Subject Guide that contains links to selected websites and automatic catalog searches for topics including Pilates, tai chi, yoga, stretching and more. Click here to see it.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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