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Checking in to see how folks did on their fitness goals this past year

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By Lenny Bernstein
Thursday, December 31, 2009

You've heard it a million times: Staying fit is a marathon, not a sprint. We all start fitness programs with the best of intentions, fired up about another way to burn calories or reach an athletic goal. But sooner or later many of us lose interest, or get too busy, or become bored with our routines, or hit a roadblock. And then we either stop exercising or seek yet another solution.

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Because Vicky and I spend most of the year recommending sometimes exotic ways of toning up and slimming down, I figured it was only fair to check back and find out how some of the people I've talked to are doing.

The results of my limited survey, it turns out, are fairly encouraging.

The racewalker

When I met Tom Gargan last summer, he was looking for a low-impact outdoor sport that would help him maintain his cardiovascular fitness so he could continue to play tennis, ski and windsurf as he grew older. Running had wrecked his knees. So there he was on a beautiful summer morning, learning to racewalk at a clinic held by the Potomac Valley Track Club.

When I called him recently, he was proud to say that he'd stuck with it. He went to two more instructional clinics and concluded that he was "not going to get into it at the competitive level at all. . . . I don't think you'll ever see me on ESPN or in the Olympics."

But four and sometimes five days a week, Gargan said, he either racewalks or takes a more traditional walk for 25 minutes around Fort Detrick in Frederick, where he works at the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research.

"The thing I notice [about racewalking] is that you can really get your heart rate up," he said.

Focusing on the technical aspect of the sport helps take his mind off work problems, said Gargan, who lives in Frederick. To racewalk properly, you have to follow two rules. First, you must maintain contact with the ground at all times. Second, the forward, or advancing, leg must be locked at the knee from the time it touches the ground in front of you until it passes the vertical position beneath you.

Gargan has purchased a balaclava and said he plans to keep up the routine through the winter. "It's so easy to miss one day, and then it goes into two days and then three days, and then it's a distant memory," he said.

The senior

Henry David had a different kind of goal when I attended his exercise class in July at Bethesda's Fox Hill independent living facility. David, 86, had not taken good care of his body and walked with the aid of a cane. He wanted to get rid of it.

And he did, at least indoors, though he still uses it outdoors as a precaution. He credits his progress to three-times-per-week classes at Fox Hill: one balance class, one session on the weight machines and one private session exercising in the pool with trainer Anthony Absalon. Recently, he said, the medication for a lung infection has made him wobbly again. But he is recovering.

"Now the trick is to get back into training and get rid of the cane once again," he said.


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