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A Loving Heart

In February heart symbols abound while we celebrate love.

Hopefully, February also becomes better known for being Heart and Stroke Prevention Month.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women. Further heart disease and strokes are two of the top leading causes of death each year, with heart disease far exceeding the others.

Typically, plaque builds up in artery walls. If the block cuts off flow within the arteries that that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, that area of the heart begins to die, causing a heart attack. Similarly, if blood supply to the brain is blocked, it can cause a stroke, sometimes referred to as “brain attack”.

The good news is heart attacks and strokes are often preventable by lifestyle changes. Over 80 percent of deaths per year, that is approximately 200,000, could be prevented! Some things you can do is include:

• Moderate exercise for 30 minutes per day, five days a week
• Make healthy food choices that include things like a diet rich in vegetables, using spices in place of sodium and limiting processed foods
• Quit smoking
• Avoid excessive alcohol.

Below are common heart attack symptoms. If you or someone is experiencing these systems, call 9-1-1 immediately:

• Chest pain or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes
• Chest pressure, squeezing, fullness or fluttering
• Shortness of breath along with chest discomfort
• Pain or discomfort in upper body including arms, back, neck
• Nausea, cold sweat, clammy skin, along with any of above signs
• Pale skin, along with any of above signs
• Constant sweating and fatigue

Strokes are often very sudden and recovery from strokes can be extremely time sensitive. There is an acronym that is used to quickly spot signs of a stroke called F.A.S.T. If you or someone else experiences the following, act FAST:

• Face dropping (a side of the face is not responsive when you ask them to smile)
• Arm weakness (difficulty with one side when asked to lift both arms)
• Speech impairment (difficulty repeating a simple sentence when asked)
• Time to call 9-1-1.

Candy and flowers are wonderful gifts during February. A far more loving heart gesture is raising Healthy Heart and Awareness.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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19 Health and Happiness Ideas for 2019

How to kick off the New Year?

Here are 19 suggestions to help you live well in 2019:

1. Be kind to yourself by starting where you are today and avoid focusing and regretting what you did in the past.  You may have gained 10 holiday pounds.  What are you going to do now?
2. Pick at least one physical goal that you can realistically stick to, like walking 30 minutes, five days per week.  Use a calendar or app to help you stick to it.  Break up the walks into 2-15 minute walks or 3-10 minute brisk walks. 
3. Pick at least one nutrition goal you can realistically stick to, like eat vegetables daily.
4. Improve your water intake.  Take your body weight.  Divide by 2.  That is the daily recommended ounces of water.
5. Drink less alcohol and sugary drinks for weight management; heavy drinking damages your body and your relationships. 
6. Try something new like rock climbing, a dance class, or tennis. 
7. Incorporate a few minutes of daily stretching of major muscle groups like chest and back, front and back of legs and arms, daily. 
8. Try a new healthy dish or recipe.  It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. 
9. Make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes with the proper insoles to help prevent injury to your knees and back. 
10. Visit your doctor for annual check-ups that screen for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.  Other screenings are based on age and sex.
11. Commit to eating as a family when possible.  If you are currently not eating together once a week, increasing to one time is a great start.
12. Eat out less.  Preparing your food helps you control sodium intake and the ingredients.
13. Park further away from buildings and walk.
14. Participate in a fitness activity, such as a 5k, where the proceeds go to a good cause.
15. Laugh often.  It’s a natural anti-depressant.
16. Forgive the person who wronged you.
17. Focus on the things for which you are grateful and complain less
18. Commit to eating less processed, pre-packaged foods to decrease health risks since many contain artificial chemicals and colors.
19. Treat yourself to a massage!

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>

By Shannon Thigpen


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Flying Fitness

Have you heard of Aerial Yoga?

Think of how incredible trapeze artists look as they swing and make beautiful poses 100 feet in the air. While aerial yoga is not that, it does incorporate the basic elements of striking beautiful yoga poses while suspended approximately three feet off the ground.

Aerial yoga uses bright colored fabric made of sturdy silk or nylon. The fabric is anchored with strong support chains then webbed securely to hold 2,000 pounds. Hanging from the ceiling, it can easily be gathered together in your hands, to make a swing that you can sit on or step in for poses like warrior or tree. Yet when the material is spread wide like a hammock, your body can fit inside it like a cocoon. The yoga pose known as (floating) shavasana is then achieved by simply lying flat and relaxing in the hammock.

There are basic poses you can perform with one leg in the silk and the other on the floor. An aerial lunge, for example, has one leg in the silk and can create a deep stretch. The poses progress in difficulty and include a variety of backbends and inversions. It challenges you in ways not possible from the floor. You develop upper body strength and a stronger core as you maneuver and balance.

Aerial yoga is now offered in gyms and studios around the country. I recently visited Wendy Fit studio, a local studio in Palm Harbor, for my first aerial yoga class. I found it invigorating and challenging. Because I practice yoga regularly, there were many things that came naturally.

I took a basic class. My knowledgeable instructor, Julie Ludlow, was kind and patient. Because the class size was small, she was very attentive and assisted the class with some of the more difficult poses. Using the silk, I was able to do some inversions that I cannot achieve on the floor. It was exciting and a lot of fun. I left feeling refreshed and invigorated.

Cindy Ginsberg of Westwood Lakes has taken many classes. “You work muscles you didn’t know you had,” she said. “There is a feeling of flying, and over time I improved.”

If you are looking for a new adventurous workout, why not try Aerial Yoga?

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Total Body Resistance Training

In the last decade suspension training has become very popular.

First introduced to military personnel, it has spread to fitness studios, gyms, and the at-home exerciser. A former Navy Seal, Randy Hetrick, developed a system made of adjustable straps with metal clasp rings. He trademarked Total Body Resistance Exercise (TRX).

The strap uses your own body resistance for a total body workout. Anchored to a stable point overhead, you maneuver them to perform a variety of exercises. From a standing posture you can face the straps to do things like lat pull-downs and bicep curls. Facing away from the straps and leaning forward, you can do things like chest presses and overhead extensions. The straps have stirrup attachments that your feet can slide into, so they can be suspended a few inches off the ground to further challenge core muscles. Assuming a pushup position, some of the many exercises you can perform are knee tucks and pushups.

Personal Trainer and Fords resident, Wendela Jackson, a YMCA trainer, likes the portability of the system and uses TXR with her clients and for her own personal use. “I love suspension training because it is a full body workout, using core all the time, while improving strength, balance, agility, and power,” she said.

TRX suspension straps improve the core’s stability and strength. A strong core is very important because it represents your stabilizing muscles. Regardless of how you define your core, your strength and power are initiated from it. Like a vibrant, healthy tree needs a strong trunk to support its limbs, so does the body. A stronger core improves posture and circulation and may reduce back pain and other joint discomfort

Greens resident, Tifinni Gothard has been doing TRX for over six years. “There are so many ways you can work your muscles with TRX straps. You can have variety in your workouts and not get bored,” she said. “You can be a beginner or advanced and still workout together doing the same exercises but at your own intensity through simple adjustments.”

Regular training can burn fat, build lean muscle and increase endurance and flexibility Remember, however, that proper training and body awareness are necessary to reduce the risk of injury and get the best results.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

The number of overweight children in America began to climb 30 years ago. Although the numbers have leveled off in recent years, they are so staggering that it is important to continue to address the epidemic.

More than 30 percent of children are overweight, according to the Journal of American Medicine, and 18 percent of all children are obese. The percentages increase as children age toward adulthood. Fourteen percent of all children ages 2–5 are rated obese, climbing to 21 percent for 12 to 19 year olds.

In the National Survey of Children’s Health, Utah has the smallest percentage of overweight and obese children at 19.2 and Tennessee has the largest at 37.7 percent. The state of Florida has 36.6 percent of children who are overweight and obese.

Childhood and adolescent obesity is classified differently than adult obesity. In adults, obesity is classified as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 percent or greater. Children and adolescents are rated according to the growth chart for age and height. If a child is in the 85 to 95 percentiles, they are rated overweight. Those in the 95th and higher percentiles are rated obese.

Nevertheless, childhood obesity is a predictor of complications for individuals and for the health care community. Obesity is linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and many cancers, including esophagus, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, colorectal, uterine and kidney cancers. High BMIs even increase complications with illnesses like the flu. Hip and knee replacements are more common among overweight adults. The financial burden is exorbitant.
Yet the issues of childhood obesity are vast and complex. There are biological, behavioral, and socioeconomical factors that suggest genetics, family dynamics, education, and even the community impact mindset and habits. There are no easy answers. Yet awareness, education and support are necessary to make positive change.

Some other observances in the month of September that can be tied to solutions for healthy weight include: Healthy Aging Month, Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Month, Whole Grains Month and Family Health and Fitness Day USA

Families can maintain healthier weight by eating more whole grains, fruits and veggies, increasing the probability of aging gracefully.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Straight Up Health

There are growing concerns about the impact hand-held devices (HHD) like smart phones and tablets are having on our health.

While the debate about screen addiction rages, one thing is not controversial: the role the devices can contribute to poor posture. With the increased usage of HHDs, more time than ever is spent in forward flexion, with the head tilted down, creating potential postural problems with the upper back, shoulders, and neck.

Both the neck and lower back have a normal inward curve to help absorb the loads from the weight of the body. The average adult head is eight to 10 pounds, the weight of a bowling ball! Since the repetitive position when using HHD cause rounded back and a lowered, improperly supported 10-pound head, it reverses the cervical curve. Without correction, it can create poor posture, weakness in the ligaments and muscles, muscle stiffness, and moderate to severe pain in the neck and back.

Not only is this a growing problem among adults, it has also an increasing concern with children. Linda Parin, a sixth grade World History teacher at Davidsen Middle School, is noticing that more students are coming to class with rounded shoulders and poor posture.
Chiropractor, Dr. Andrew Danks, who has been practicing for over 10 years, is also noticing children with posture issues is on the rise. “You are always training your body to be better at what you do,” Danks said, adding that it’s crucial to address the potential postural problems early on. “Children are more adaptable than adults,” he said.

Good posture can be taught. Some potential considerations to aid in the prevention of HHD postural issues include:

• Consider how early you give children hand held devices.
• Balance the time children spend sedentary with HHDs and the time spent participating in physical activity.
• Monitor posture and if you notice changes, be proactive in corrective measures.
• Use parental control software to limit time spent on devices.
• Implement stretching and strengthening techniques to correct potential imbalances.
• Set a good example by demonstrating good posture and having periods of not using HHDs.
• Attach your HHD to a wall or refrigerator.
• Avoid studying in bed.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Skate, Rattle and Roll

Given our world of electronics, it is exciting to find a physical activity your teenager loves.

One popular sport among teens is skateboarding. The U.S. has over 6 million skateboarders, the majority of whom are teenage boys and young adult men under 25. Skateboarding is an overall fitness sport. It burns calories and improves balance, coordination, agility, endurance, strength and some flexibility. You can skateboard to travel short distances, engage in casual recreation or compete.

Some people may look down on skateboarding, perhaps in part because it is fast, and you need a hard, smooth, spacious surface to skateboard. Not only does that make skateboarding dangerous, there are not many locations that want a bunch of teenagers zipping around on wheels outside their place of business. Other dangers include injury from skating where there is traffic, skating in inappropriate weather conditions, skating with bad lighting, and attempting complex moves like kickflips and frontside boardslides before mastering the basics.

You should always wear a standard skateboard helmet. Elbow and knee pads, mouthguards, wrist bands may also be a good idea. Closed toe leather or suede shoes are also essential for protection and safety. Marketing of these and other related products by companies like VANS, and thrasher T-shirts, along with professional skateboarders, magazines, and competitions have made the industry worth billions of dollars.

Skateboarding continues to grow and broaden its reach. Heide Olive Ferrara learned about A.skate Foundation for children with autism and introduced skateboarding to her son Alex. Alex, 12, skates with his mom around his neighborhood. He is having fun while sharpening motor skills, coordination, balance and focus.

Over the years more advocates have begun petitioning for funding and support to provide locations for skateboarders to hang out and learn. There are a few parks in the Tampa Bay area that offer clinics and summer camps for kids. Westchase resident Mikaela Kwan, 16, has taken to the sport. “I think it is a great cardio workout. I like making friends and knowing the workers.”

Mikaela most recently began helping coach an all-girls clinic at Skatepark of Tampa (SPoT).

So encourage your kids to stop spinning their wheels on video games – and hit their skateboards instead!

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Aging with Balance

June is National Safety Month.

What is one step to improve safety for our older relatives? Among them is fall prevention.

According to the Center of Disease Control, falls are the number one cause of injury and complications that lead to death among older adults. Adults age 65 and older continue to grow. In just a few years, the number of older adults in the US is expected to be 20 percent of the population.

Of course, aging is a natural part of life, however, developing and maintaining a level of functional fitness can substantially reduce the risk of falling. Balance and stability are key factors in functional fitness.

There are internal factors and external factors that can compromise balance. Internal factors such as vision, the auditory system, muscular strength, cognition, the neurological sensory abilities of limbs, flexibility, mobility, and reaction time influence our ability to balance and prevent falls.

External factors may include the amount of medications you take, various floor surfaces like rugs, cracks in sidewalks, wet and slippery floors, and many other environmental conditions. Footwear is another external factor.

Improving internal factors will improve functional fitness. Resistance training can help to improve muscular strength, and power. It can be done using your own body weight for resistance or using fitness tools like hand weights. Core strength, along with stronger quadriceps and hamstrings, and the ability to dorsiflex your foot are also significant in taking a step. Flexible muscles, achieved by different stretching techniques, can move through their full range of motion. That will help you to have a good stride (gait). Doing drills at different tempos and challenging movement in different directions challenge your ability to shift your weight, balance on your weight baring leg, and move with agility. Closing your eyes or turning your head to look away while standing in place test your proprioception, which is your ability to know where you are in space without looking.

This type of exercise training can be done at home or in a gym setting. Working with an experienced trainer or instructor will ensure you are using proper form and technique and will reduce the risk of falling.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Plan for All Shapes and Sizes

Although it’s common for people to compare the way they look to others, it is often not a fair comparison.

Everyone is not built the same. Working toward a goal should be one that is attainable. f you are an adult male who is 5’10”, it is obvious that you will not be 6’4”, no matter how much you aspire to be. If you have bigger bones and a naturally muscular physic, for example, setting a goal to have a longer, lean frame will also have its restrictions. Embracing your body type and the acceptance that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes is a powerful awareness. Then set goals for being your healthiest, best self.

The fitness community defines three major body types; ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. It is very likely that you are a combination of two, with one type being more dominant. Knowing your body type, you can come up with a plan that is specific to your success.

Ectomorph: Typically long, lean muscles with small joints, ectomorphs find it hard to gain muscle. They have a faster metabolism. With narrow hips and thighs, weight gain often occurs in unwanted areas like the waistline. Ectomorph workouts should be shorter with intense exercises for larger muscle groups. Weights would be heavier with fewer repetitions. Ectomorphs need healthy sources of protein and good carbohydrates.

Mesomorph: With larger bone structure and naturally athletic build, this body type is strong and can easily gain muscle mass. Mesomorphs can also burn fat relatively easy. If they do not want to bulk up, the mesomorph would lift light to moderate weight and include more bouts of cardio. Eliminating processed foods and sugar from their diet can quickly reduce body fat.

Endomorph: Endomorphs gain weight very easily. Their metabolism is slower. Endomorphs are strong, but it is usually more difficult to lose weight. It is very important for this body type to limit processed foods and sugars to lose body fat and not be discouraged when weight doesn’t drop immediately. Daily cardio at a higher intensity is recommended. The activity could be any number of things, including walking, biking, dancing, swimming, or running.

Of course, lifestyle, consistency of training, genetics, hydration, and adequate rest are also important elements in your plan.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Eat, Exercise, Sleep

When it comes to fitness, everyone thinks about exercise, but it is only part of the equation.

In recent years, more people are also beginning to accept that nutrition is extremely important for fitness and overall health. You cannot, after all, out-exercise a bad diet. Yet another factor must also be incorporated for optimal health – the need for rest and recovery. Adequate sleep is vital for muscle tissue repair, weight loss and weight management.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of Americans do not get the recommended amount of sleep. Not getting enough sleep can arise from a sleep disorder like insomnia. It can also result from not experiencing good quality sleep, or simply not setting aside enough time to sleep. Regardless of cause, inadequate sleep has been linked to diseases and conditions like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.

Experts recommend that adults over 18 get seven or more hours of sleep per night. Children should get more. The younger the age group, the greater amount of sleep the youth should get.

When you don’t have sufficient sleep, you can be irritable, experience decreased cognitive skills and an inability to focus, and have a greater tendency to gain weight. Inadequate sleep contributes to auto accidents, increased errors on the job, and work-related injuries.

If you do have a sleeping disorder, seek medical assistance to come up with a plan that is right for you.

Some things you can do to promote sleep are:

Exercising three or four times weekly can be beneficial for sleeping; however, avoid vigorous exercise a few hours before bed. Instead if you are doing physical activity closer to bedtime, enjoy some gentle form of yoga, Pilates or stretching.

Maintain a consistent time that you go to bed and get up. Develop a routine to unwind like taking a bath and reading a book.

Avoid electronics in the bedroom. Make your bedroom an environment for sleeping. Keep the room temperature cooler.

Avoid naps if sleeping through the night is a challenge.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Stopping to Breathe

Often people are moving so fast, so busy with life, they are not paying attention to how they are breathing.

Take a breath and observe what is happening to your body. Are you breathing from a state of rest or from a state of anxiety? It matters because we live in two states of being: the parasympathetic state and the sympathetic state.

Both are part of the autonomic nervous system and are purposeful and necessary for survival. The parasympathetic state is a state of rest. During that state, the systems of the body perform functions like digesting food, creating, removing waste from the body and relaxing.

When in the sympathetic state, you are in the fight-or-flight state. Breathing pattern increases, blood pressure increases, blood sugar levels increase, and the body functions in survival mode to literally escape a situation or fight for your life. The body’s response is no different than if you were being attacked by a bear or dealing with stressors of modern-day society.

When breathing from an anxious state, there is a tendency to overuse muscles in the neck and shoulders like the sternocleidomastoid (scm), the trapezius (traps), erector spinae and levator scapulae. When you are breathing properly from a restful state, those muscles are not used.

Research says you take over 20,000 breathes a day. Imagine day after day, year after year, using neck and shoulder muscles for work they were not designed for. That is a lot of overuse!

Instead, it is primarily the diaphragm muscle that should be used for breathing. One way to practice is to lie down with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place your spine in neutral. You will know it is in neutral if you put your hands on your hips and your hands are parallel to the floor and ceiling. Then place a hand on your lower belly and take a breath. It should expand (rise) when you inhale. It should contract (deflate) when you exhale. If you are not use to this, it will take practice.

You can also practice sitting in a chair. Sit up tall. Take time outs frequently during the day to practice purposeful breathing and give your neck and shoulder muscles some relief.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Microscope on Medication

Medical science has come a long way and research continues to improve formulas for every ailment known to man.

It is truly amazing to see the progression for cures like smallpox to advancements in AIDs research and some cancers.

The best approach, in my opinion, is a hybrid approach of conventional and alternative, holistic medicine. Ideally, prevention is preferred whenever possible. The mindset of do whatever you want, and eat whatever you want until your body can’t take it anymore, then medicate, has to change. Most degenerative diseases are preventable and solutions a have often been suggested years ago. Every year scientist “discover” something my Great-grandma Ada, who could only write her name, taught me as a child, such as apple cider vinegar is good for digestion.

Nevertheless, I would never advise anyone to make changes to their prescriptions without first seeking the advice of their medical provider. For example, I often hear people resist taking blood pressure medication. High blood pressure can damage your heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. You can potentially cause irreparable damage. Therefore, a better plan might be to use medication, and at the same time, work to restore your health to lessen your dependence on medication.

A huge challenge is the power of the pharmaceutical industry. It is over $1 trillion dollars annually. That’s a whole lot of money. The U.S. market accounts for the largest portion of these revenues. You can see where that may present a conflict of not wanting people to restore their health without a potpourri of prescription drugs. Moreover, medication frequently has potential risk and side effects.

Research varies widely, but the between 100,000 and 125,000 Americans die from prescription drugs annually. Of those, it is estimated that one-fifth take the prescriptions as prescribed! Depending on the resource, it is estimated that 700,000 ER trips each year are due to adverse reactions to drugs.

Suggestions for taking medicinal responsibility include:

• Team with medical providers you trust.
• Ask questions.
• Make sure your all of your physicians are aware of medications you are taking.
• Be knowledgeable of the side effects.
• Have a heavily plant-based diet.
• Drink plenty of water.
• Walk and strength train regularly.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Eighteen Healthy Suggestions for ‘18

The New Year is symbolic for new beginnings.

In a tip to 2018, here are 18 suggestions for achievable New Year’s resolutions and better health.

Be consistent with weekly meal planning. Select a day of the week when you will get your perishables like fresh fruit and vegetables; that same day, or a different day, prep meals and snacks for the week.

Try a new recipe once a month. If you are bored with your present menu, change it up by finding new, quick and healthy recipes.

Fast from eating meat one or more days each week.

Reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less per day.

Reduce portion sizes of meals and snacks.

Eat at least seven fruits and veggies per day. Keep a bowl of fruit visible, make smoothies, and prepare or purchase organic dips of hummus, salsa and guacamole to make this an easy practice.

Drink eight glasses of water per day. Start and end each day with a glass of water; six more to go!

Take a good quality daily supplement.

Avoid late-night snacking. Have a cut-off of two hours before bedtime.

Consider a different exercise. Explore a new format, location, style or time.

Add more strength training to your workout regimen. Use free weights, machines, or your own body weight for resistance.

Get all medical check-ups, such as annual physical, dental and vision exams.

Use a tool like an iWatch or Fitbit for accountability.

Physically move three miles or 7,000 steps each day at a minimum.

Commit to 30 minutes of physical activity three to five days each week and 10 minutes of daily stretching.

Avoid obsessing over weight. Only get on the scale once a week or once a month.

Turn off the television and get adequate sleep each night.

Smile. Don’t take this suggestion lightly. I am not referring to a fake smile, but one that comes from the heart because of a change in perspective.  Focusing on what you have to be grateful for and treating others as you would like to be treated can add to your health and well-being. 

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit


By Shannon Thigpen


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Tips to Minimize Holiday Stress

Holidays are exciting, festive and energetic.

Yet holidays can also be stressful. According to Healthline, nearly 50 percent of stress is due to finances, with eating and fitness habits coming in a distant, but relevant, second place. Family issues and long work hours, especially in the retail and service industries, are the top four stressors.

To make the most of the holidays, here are a few suggestions to minimize stress and increase joy and well-being.

Stay within your budget. Will Rogers said, “Too many people are spending money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, for people they don’t like.” Being creative and staying within your budget will save you from heart palpitations when the bills come rolling in next month.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol impairs judgment. The more people who are gathered and drinking heavily, the more likely drama will ensue. Someone needs to be level-headed. Why not you?

When you are drinking, keep in mind the calories. One gram of alcohol equals seven calories while one gram of protein or carbohydrate is four calories and one gram of fat is nine calories. Also consider the mixers you put in drinks.

Give grace to the visiting family members and friends that you don’t necessarily like. If you can strive to see things from their perspective, you may have more empathy and understand they are only behaving from their level of awareness.

Avoid going to parties hungry. By eating healthy foods and snacks, you will be more likely to enjoy smaller portions of rich, decadent, fried, sweet and salty foods.

Walk, bike, swim, row, box and dance whenever you can to release tension. It produces endorphins and helps to manage weight gain.

Get rest during the holidays when people are often exhausted from their busy schedules.

Practice mindfulness daily. Have some quiet time where you can focus on breathing and slowing down your thoughts – even if it is for five minutes.

Carve out quality time to spend with loved ones. Remember to smile and consciously turn away from the computer, phone, and television when engaging with children, spouses, partners, loved ones and colleagues. Be present when you are together.

And always remember to express what you are grateful for each day.

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>

By Shannon Thigpen


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My Word!

Making commitments of any kind is usually easier said than done.

The beginning of the year is the most popular time to commit to living a healthier lifestyle. Yet after an enthusiastic start, a few weeks go by. It becomes a sluggish burden, slowly succumbing to a screeching halt.

If you continuously make promises to yourself and do not keep your word, you eventually begin to doubt and not take yourself seriously. Not keeping your personal commitments can cause psychological and emotional barriers that must be conquered for true change.

Alas, do not lose heart! There are systems you can put into place to help you keep your personal promises. The first is never, ever to give up! You are not alone!

The next time you make a promise to yourself, create a culture of accountability. You will have more conviction, and it will be harder not to follow through if you share your plans with others. How can you create accountability?

Join a gym or attend fitness classes. Go beyond just going to the gym or classes by going with the intention of meeting others who are committed to being healthier. Establishing these relationships will ensure when you go missing, you receive a call or text to help you stay on track.

Work with a professional. When you use your hard-earned resources to invest in your health, you are more likely to follow through. And the wellness professional will have systems in place to follow up with you.

Share your goals with family members and friends. A spouse, siblings and friends are certain to remember your promise. Have several accountability partners. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, consider telling them your plans too! They are usually more than willing to help. Ideally, have a few people who are willing to work out with you without becoming dependent on whether they follow through.

Join a social media group. Find a social media group that mirrors your goals. You will find lots of encouragement from others who have gone through similar experiences.

Find challenges to keep things interesting, like a 5k, a plank challenge or a gluten-free challenge.

Make your workout fun!

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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On Your Mark!

Race season has hit its stride.

Websites like and provide race schedules for various events throughout the calendar year. Typically, the races are on behalf of some worthy cause and their proceeds benefit others in need. Therefore, even if you are not going to participate in the race, you can often volunteer to help.

Most races feature a positive energy and a party atmosphere. There are often raffles with great give-a-ways, fun activities for kids, tasty bites to sample, and merchandise discounts.

For first time participants, there are many “Couch to 5K” apps that can be Internet-searched or found on your smartphone. The fitness plans are usually nine-week plans or less. It is best to prepare in advance and be realistic with your goals. During race preparation, make working on distance your priority. Ensure you can complete the distance in the time allotted for the race. You can even pace your run to be a fast walk. You can always walk a 5K but understand some races have time restrictions. If the race occupies major roads, for example, they will only be closed for a specific time.

The Jeff Galloway method is a great option. This Olympians’ method incorporates interval bursts of running followed by a period of a recovery walking. You should not be embarrassed by this run-walk method. Many experienced runners use this it to achieve great personal best times. It also helps in training. Walking recovery enables you to work out for longer, prevents injuries and enhances recovery.

Other race preparations include:

• Hydrate well the day before and the day of the race.
• Eat a healthy meal including carbohydrates the night before the race.
• Limit alcohol the night before the race.
• Get a good night’s rest.
• Have a light meal, perhaps a protein shake or a banana before the race, especially if it is longer than a 5K.
• Use a well-supported running shoe in which you have already done some of your training.
• Give yourself plenty of time for parking. Arrive early so you have time for a proper warm-up.
• For proper race etiquette, start the race at your pace marker so those running faster than you do not have to go around you.
• Last, have fun!

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit


By Shannon Thigpen


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Fitness While Traveling

Enjoying yourself while traveling does not have to exclude being healthy.

You can absolutely kick back and enjoy playful meals and even decadent desserts without throwing your health to the wind. Preparation is critical to making the most of your vacation.

Make sure you have the right gear to accommodate your choice of activities to burn calories, including comfortable shoes and clothing.

Determine if you will have access to a grocery stores and pack accordingly.

Remember to bring medications, vitamin supplements, sunscreen and other items you may not be able to purchase easily.

Write out food restrictions or requirements in advance in the language of the place you are visiting so you can communicate easily and efficiently.

When you arrive, visit a grocery store if available. Take advantage of the refrigerator, if you have one, for drinks and food items, including leftovers. If you are staying in a location with a kitchenette, consider preparing some meals. This is a wonderful way to control healthier food preparation and accommodate your budget.

Commit to eating at least one healthy meal a day. Perhaps begin your day with a moderate, nutritious breakfast with protein and fruit. It will give you an energetic start and keep you satiated longer. Consider fresh vegetables, like a mixed-green salad, at least one a day.

Carry a reusable water bottle and stay hydrated. Drinking water can also reduce the number of calories you consume. Add a little fruit like lemon or strawberries for flavor.

Travel with zip-lock bags so you can portion snacks into individual serving sizes. Whole fruits like apples, oranges, and non-perishable items like nuts, whole grain crackers, and protein bars are great for in-between meals.

Try a variety of activities that interest you. Walking is usually an excellent method of exercising while sightseeing. You can also rent bikes, canoe, hike, climb, ski, swim or snorkel. Perhaps you would prefer to visit a fitness center or a yoga studio or complete a workout routine that can easily be done in minimal space.

Set aside enough time for adequate sleep, which will help to protect your immune system while you are traveling.

Finally, travel with your patience and sense of humor. You will have a much more enjoyable time if you are quick to give the benefit of the doubt.

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit


By Shannon Thigpen


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Arthritis: A Joint Statement

The leading cause of disability, arthritis is often misunderstood.

The term arthritis actually encompasses over 100 different types of joint pain or joint disease. Many associate the elderly with arthritis, but it affects people regardless of age, race or gender.

Over 50 million adults suffer from arthritis. Surprisingly, 300,000 children suffer from arthritis also. In fact, July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness month. Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to turn on the body instead of protecting it. There is no known cure. Examples of these types of autoimmune diseases include Juvenile Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Kawasaki Disease and scleroderma.
Adults suffer these autoimmune disorders as well. They can attack organs, eyes and muscles in addition to joints.

Most common among adults is osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease. In healthy joints the cartilage that covers the ends of bones allows for smooth motion and provides a cushion between the bones. When this cartilage breaks down, it causes swelling, pain and stiffening. As it gets worse, bone spurs can ensue and sometimes bits of the bone or cartilage break off and float around the joint, causing further debilitation.

Although aging is the most common factor, obesity, overuse, weak muscles and genetics can also lead to osteoarthritis. Hips and knees are joints that are often impacted but it can also develop in the neck, back, fingers and toes.

Along with working with your health care provider on proper medicinal treatment, suggestions for managing arthritis include:

• Weight management: Excessive weight puts additional stress on joints. For example, every pound exerts about four pounds of excessive pressure on your knees.
• Healthy eating: Certain foods can cause inflammation. When you have arthritis, your body already battles an inflammatory state. Fried foods, sugar, salt and processed foods can trigger inflammation.
• Avoid nicotine and excessive alcohol: Research suggests that tobacco and nicotine may cause joint pain. Alcohol consumption increases risk of gout and smokers are at greater risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis.
• Exercise: Proper exercise can strengthen bones and the muscles that support the bones.
• Rest: Maintaining a healthy balance between activity and rest is vital in managing arthritis.

Visit for more information.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Kickin’ It

If you enjoy high intensity rhythmic cardiovascular activity, chances are you will love cardio kickboxing.

The classes are usually a combination of martial arts, boxing and aerobics. It is a great way to release aggression and stress, while throwing punches and kicks, often to motivational tracks with strong beats.

Other kickboxing classes may not involve a musical backdrop but nevertheless mirror a boxer’s workout. Some styles require shadow boxing while following an instructor’s cues while others involve sparring with a partner. Styles may vary, but many of the basic components include jumping rope, hitting a speed-bag, and performing a combination of punches.

“I like how you feel strong (when kickboxing). I love how it combines upper body and lower body moves to enhance overall cardio fitness,” said cardio kickboxing instructor, Mary Ann Kirsch of The Fords.

As a beginner, you can modify the routines by marching with less bounce as opposed to jumping, keeping kicks closer to the floor, tapping the floor instead of raising the legs if necessary, and throwing jabs with less intensity. Always, however, get clearance from your medical provider before starting this or any new exercise regimen.

It is important to start slowly and build flexibility and endurance to avoid injury. Breathing and using your core are extremely important. A good instructor will coach you throughout the workout to breathe and pay attention to your form and alignment.

Equipment requirements will vary depending on the type of kickboxing class and the facility. You will, however, want to bring a high level of energy and motivation, water and a towel. You may also be required to bring your own boxing gloves, although not every class uses gloves. Most other equipment, like punching bags, is provided.

Some gyms offer classes that include three-minute intervals with short rests just like a real boxing match.

Christine Kwan of The Vineyards used to teach cardio kickboxing in downtown Tampa. She really likes the combination of boxing with bouts of high and low intensity training and attacking the punching bag. “We punch high, middle, and low. The constant punching really burns your entire arm while also working your chest and back,” said Kwan. “Your lower body is worked when you bob and weave. You and your body never know what to expect. It is a great workout!”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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May: Global Employee and Fitness Month

Everyone knows Memorial Day is in May but did you know it’s Global Employee and Fitness Month?

It is a national and international observance of health and fitness in the workplace. Employers and employees all over the world implement and participate in healthy activities at the workplace and within their communities. It was created by ACTIVE Life and the National Association for Health and Fitness, two non-profit organizations.

Considering how much time employees spend at work and how expensive it is to have employees out sick or battling degenerative diseases, it makes sense to incentivize employees to be healthy. Many larger companies, particularly those within the wellness community like hospitals and insurance providers, lead the way with year-round programs. It is the hope that over time, more companies will get involved with wellness initiatives.  Employees are more active in workplace programs when their employers make wellness a priority.

Johnson & Johnson employee and Village Green resident Sarah Longstreet said, “There is a great deal that our company does to encourage employees and their families to be healthy.”

A few of their many incentives include having deductibles paid for and the ability to submit receipts for exercise reimbursement. They can earn points through smart device tracking for the chance to win prizes. A sales representative on Longstreet’s team is also the team wellness lead. “She does education on nutrition and activity with the team.” 

Additionally, the team lead helps with healthy catering selections for national company meetings and helps plan optional organized fitness activities in the morning of national meetings.

Sarah Gavlak Perron, also of Village Green, works for BayCare. Among their offerings, there are “discounted fitness memberships and [they] have a wellness coach available.”

The company’s cafeteria features healthy choices and they have Fitbit challenges.

Linda Bals-Weisman’s of WellCare Health Plans said that one of the things they do is give everyone a Fitbit.  The Fords resident said they have a comprehensive point system based on steps you walk per day. They also earn points for taking educational programs designed for healthy living. They have a cafeteria with healthy foods and an onsite fitness facility. “They have tons of recipes for eating healthy, webinars, online courses and assessments to help you plan your weight loss or goals to living healthier.”

How can your job better emphasize health and fitness?

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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April: Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Typically Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is diagnosed early in childhood. It developmentally affects individuals to various degrees (a spectrum), and impacts their ability to communicate and socialize with others. One in 68 children in the United States are born with the disorder.

Exercise, good nutrition, and lots of unconditional love positively impact everyone. Individuals diagnosed with ASD are no exceptions. Studies show that vigorous exercise like running three or four days weekly for at least 20 minutes decreases aggression, hyperactivity, and self-injury, depression and stress. It can also improve attentiveness, focus, and sleep. Exercise is a very inexpensive and a natural way to positively affect children and adults with autism.

Sara Neuman has been teaching students with special needs for six years. Many of her students are autistic. “Basically, they need exercise just like all other children. My three boys needed two hours of running around to keep down their aggression.”

Evidence suggest good nutrition plays a role in the overall physical improvement of ASD symptoms. You must find what works best for each individual. However, most experts agree that a good trial period is three months. Prior to 2008 food choices were not believed to have an impact. Then the Academy of Pediatrics acknowledged a correlation between ASD and sugars and additives in many foods, and also casein (a protein in mammal dairy). “I think that is like all other children as well,” said Neuman.

The Greens resident says that autistic children tend to be a little pickier when it comes to foods, colors, and texture, but all children can benefit from a healthy diet.

Janelle Vann, also of The Greens, shares how one of her eighth grade students at Adams Middle School melts her heart every day. “Whatever the challenge, teachers must cherish each opportunity to embrace the uniqueness of each student and their needs,” she said.

There are events happening worldwide during National Autism Awareness Month. Among others, the Autism Speaks Walk is April 22 at Raymond James Stadiu,. You can contact Autism Foundation of Tampa Bay for additional information on ways to volunteer or monetarily support the foundation.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Give Me A Cheer!

A team activity that often overlooked as an elite sport is cheerleading.

Cheerleading, however, takes the conditioning, strength, flexibility, and coordination of an athlete to perform its vigorous tumbling, dancing, and jumping.

Fords resident Karrie Hawkins began cheering at 7 years old. In high school she cheered for Leto. Later, Karrie founded the Colts Youth Football team with her husband, Ty. The organization has won several Tampa Bay Youth Football League (TBYFL) Grand Championships. The last four years Karrie has been head cheer coach at Alonso High School, where she has lead teams to two state runner-ups and two third place finishes. Her daughter, Kirsten, cheered for the Colts and Alonso High School. “Cheerleading is very helpful in building self-esteem. Being part of the group gives you confidence and a sense of belonging….. It keeps the kids active and in shape,” she said.

Kristin O’Donnell of The Fords cheered for UCF and the Orlando Predators, an arena football team. Kristin coached in the TBYFL Cheer organization while her daughter Molly participated. She now enjoys being a “cheer Mom” from the Alonso High School bleachers.

There is a high risk of injury in the sport. O’Donnell stresses how methodically they train the kids. The coaches drill basic positions and safety procedures before stunting. “We actually practice how to catch a girl if she is falling, and reiterate over and over that the girls are never ever allowed to talk during stunts. Everyone has to work together, and trust one another like family.”

As the sport continues to develop, there are more opportunities for cheer enthusiasts. Nancy Young cheered for University of Iowa. The Kingsford resident’s daughter, Marrisa, cheered for the Westchase Colts, Alonso High School and the Tumble Tech Allstars.

Following her mother’s footsteps, Marrisa is currently a sophomore cheering at University of Iowa. “She was in the Rose Bowl Parade and game, went to New York for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and got to come home this year to cheer in the Outback Bowl. I had some great experiences, but it is nothing like what she has done!”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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The Imperfect Balancing Act

For optimal health, it is important to have balance in your body and in your life.

How can you improve your physical balance and life balance in today’s fast-paced hustle?

Practicing balance will strengthen your body’s stabilizing muscles. Have you ever braced yourself on a shuttle train at the airport? Can you stay steady and not lose your balance without holding on? If so, you most likely have strong stabilizing muscles and great balance.

Some benefits of improved balance are a stronger core for lifting heavy objects; stronger stabilizing joints like hips, knees and ankles; and improved focus, concentration and posture.

To improve balance, simply close your eyes to challenge your balance. If that is easy, try standing on one foot with your eyes closed. You can also use fun tools like Bosu, foam rollers, stability balls, and discs to challenge your balance.

Balancing life among demands of school, work, children, parents, friends, and even quiet time alone is challenging. There is no perfect balance. Typically life will throw some curveball that needs more attention at any given time. If you have a newborn, for example, you are going to spend time and attention with your baby. If you have parents for whom you are caring, attention may be directed more toward them for a time.

“It comes down to setting a schedule and boundaries,” said Shires resident Casey Craig.

Casey is not too hard on herself when things don’t go as planned. Casey is the mother of a 1 year old and works from home. She emphasizes working from home can be difficult. She could easily “get sucked in” to working 12 hour days. Casey surrounds herself with positive, supportive people. Her husband cares for the baby several nights a week while she meets with her workout buddies.

Juan Hernandez lives in IMT Tuscany Apts. As a young father, Juan works hard at being there for his wife Maria, and their daughter Mia, almost 2. They are expecting a son in the spring. “I put my family first,” Juan said.

The Nielsen employee enjoys soccer in the evenings and fishing with his friends or family on Saturdays. “It’s not perfect… but I try my best.”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Women on Workouts

When considering exercise regimens for average women, it can seem slightly insane trying to juggle responsibilities ranging from family schedules and work to kids and meals

Stop a moment to consider: what will work for your personality, lifestyle, time constraints and interests? Circumstances including a change in family dynamics like a job, a newborn, a relocation, even boredom or complacency may demand a new fitness adventure.

How does an active woman go about finding the right program?

The solution is embedded in what is personally right for you. What must you personally do to feel that you are giving yourself proper self care and restoration?

Working out in groups for camaraderie, companionship, and accountability can be a part of a winning strategy. In Northwest Hillsborough County we are blessed with a large variety of fitness choices.

If you want to be in a space that is only for women, Insane Fit Girls may be the solution for you. Established in 2012, it is uniquely women-only training. Founder and owner Elaine Ragan, who lives in The Enclave, chose the name Insane Fit Girls. “I didn’t want to be intimidating, but wanted it to be clear we would work hard and have fun.”

The small group training outdoor workouts are designed to challenge all fitness levels. The concept and routines help “to encourage and empower women to meet their full potential. They challenge themselves beyond self-imposed limits,” Ragan said.

Fords resident and mother of five children, Sherida Cook has been an IFG for two years. “I love the smaller classes and individualized casual workouts,” she said.

Since they are never the same, Sherida said she never gets bored. She also loves all of the women she has met through the group. There is, in her words, “amazing support and friendship.”

Orange Theory is a unisex, international franchise that uses rowing machines, treadmills, free weights and other tools in a one-hour session of interval training. Their philosophy is to use heart-rate monitors, experienced coaches, and good music to push participants to work in a target zone of 84 percent or greater of their maximum heart rate for a portion of each interval. This High Intensity Interval Training creates a state which potentially keeps you burning calories for hours after you have completed your workout.

Greens residents Kenneth and Annette Andresen began taking Orange Theory classes a year ago. They now own four of the franchises. “I like Orange Theory because my husband will go with me. Before Orange Theory, there were not many fitness classes my husband would take with me. Orange Theory has a guy-friendly feel so we can do it together. For me, it is a good positive way to release stress. And I love the music! It makes me feel like I’m doing something for myself and that I am being a good role model for my son. I feel accomplished that I am taking care of myself.”

Another option is yoga.

Missy White is the owner of Studio 108 Yoga and Healing Institute. Missy began her yoga journey in 1999. She was a director for a retail company and found herself at a crossroad. She said in many ways yoga changed her life. “Yoga made me want to do things differently. I wanted to sleep better and feel good in the morning.”

Missy is an internationally recognized yoga instructor. Classes at Studio 108 range from basic asanas, meaning poses, to more advanced inversion poses. The studio is not gender specific but she also believes it is a good space for women, especially those who are super busy, over-scheduled and stressed. “You can breathe. The movement gets you out of the chatter in your head,” she said.

“Working women and moms need that break before going home to give to their families. And we always have a positive message here,” she said. “We have a community. It’s like a second home where you can be yourself.”

As diverse as the programs are, they each provide the benefit of:

• A connection beyond just exercising
• A place where you can establish life-long bonds
• Built-in accountability
• An ability to form other social bonds/groups
• Flexible pricing with no joining fees.

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>

By Shannon Thigpen


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The Art of Tai Chi

When you think of martial arts, you typicall think of aggressive fighting styles used to defend yourself and kick butt.

A discipline called Tai Chi, however, is becoming more popular in the western world. Tai Chi has evolved over thousands of years. It combines Qigong, a system of physical exercises and breath control, with martial arts.

Tai Chi strings together a series of movements which are done purposely. It can be done by everyone: the very young to the most seasoned. The practice takes many years to master. When you begin, you are typically learning from the outside in, understanding body mechanics and the various moves of the routine you are learning. Competency and credentials begin with learning these basic movements and alignment. But Tai Chi involves various classical theories and goes well beyond the physical act of movement. As you gain insightfulness, your practice will begin to flow from the inside out, further deepening your practice and insight.

Spine Institute Director Russell Levy, a physical therapist, is a Tai Chi instructor who teaches at the Northwest YMCA several times weekly and offers complimentary classes on Sundays in a nearby location. Along with a Kung Fu background, Levy credits Tai Chi for his balance, steadiness and calm. The father of four children ranging in ages from 6 to 10 says, “It is an anger management resource. I am calm and now approach things differently.”

Understanding Ying and Yang, or passive and active, are at the core of the practice, but there are many styles of Tai Chi. Some styles are more combat-oriented. Others are more meditative. Bonnie Birdsall, who offers a complementary class at the Upper Tampa Bay Library, practices “a fluid Yang style.” It could be described as meditation in motion. Birdsall has practiced Tai Chi in the Tampa Bay area for over 17 years. “I was a performer in New York. I went to my first class when my mother passed away from ovarian cancer. I was seeking a practice that was less ego based and where I was more of a healer in the community.”

Benefits of Tai Chi include helping to lower blood pressure, reducing join pain and improving your immune system, a sense of inner peace, balance, flexibility and memory.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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In Fitness and in Health

An endless number of health benefits arise from regular physical activity.

Having healthy relationships is essential for your overall well-being. Exercising with your spouse or significant other can be beneficial to your health and the health of your relationship. A healthy relationship requires an investment of time, consideration of your partner, patience, compassion, encouragement and nurturing. Exercising together is an opportunity to practice each of these traits.

“We do everything together,” Diane Shaver says of Ron, her husband of 10 years. The Glencliff residents enjoy going to the Westchase Recreation Center and the Northwest YMCA. They regularly participate in fitness classes – Stretch and Tone at the Recreation Center and Silversneakers at the YMCA.

Between the Recreation Center and the YMCA, they are at the gym an average of four times weekly. Additionally, the Shavers walk and enjoy traveling. They also purchase annual passes to Busch Gardens, which ensures they do even more walking.

The two do have independent interests as well. “Ron loves golfing once a week and also plays pickle ball at the Recreation Center, and I,” she paused with a chuckle, “I like hanging out with my friends.”

Exercising with your beloved may encourage each of you to stay committed. “Sometimes when we are tired or not in the mood, it is much easier to go together,”Colleen Brzezinski said. Colleen and Tom Brzezinski reside in Radcliffe. The couple met in high school and they have been married almost 26 years.

“We do not do the same routine,” Colleen said with a smile. Tom enjoys running long distances on the treadmill, using the elliptical and the bike at the YMCA in West Park Village. Colleen loves step classes, yoga, and whatever other classes she can squeeze in. They both enjoy lifting weights. The couple likes to work around the house and they are also avid college football fans.

Although this formula may not work for every couple, working out together may:

• Increase the quality time you spend together.
• Encourage you to try new activities.
• Increase accountability.
• Reduce stress.
• Increase energy.
• Increase self-confidence.
• Improve intimacy.
• Increase or improve romance.
• Make you a happier couple.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Teachers Triumph over Transition

Our children’s teachers require a tremendous amount of stamina, patience and perseverance.

Yet teachers who work out regularly have more energy and focus and manage weight easier. Transitioning from a flexible summer to a back-to-school regimen can be quite challenging, but it’s not impossible.

Greens resident Lisa Raab goes to LA Fitness six days a week during the summer. She enjoys weight training between 9-11 a.m. “I do weight training just as much for my mind as my body. I'm much more relaxed, yet energized.”

Once school begins, the Westchase AGP fifth grade math and science teacher manages to stay disciplined and still goes to the gym four days a week, usually at 4:30 p.m. This is an optimal time since the gym is not yet crowded with the after work crew. Lisa goes to the gym both Saturday and Sunday during the school year.

Lisa said she is “soooo much more tired during school year.” She has to push herself harder to go to the gym. “But once I get there,” she added, “I’m always happy I made it.”

District instructional mentor Debbie Orkin Steinfeld of The Fords travels between schools. “I work out every day of the week in the summer and then school starts and...ugh,” she said. Debbie, however, enjoys Camp Gladiator, a group boot camp. “It's so fun!” she said, describing the workout as very intense and always different.

How can you stay fit during the school year?

1. Make it a priority and exercise first thing in the morning or as soon as you get out of school/work if possible.
2. Find a program or regimen that you like that works into your schedule.
3. Push through the temptation to skip it; once you do, you will be glad you did.
4. Stand at work whenever possible wearing appropriate shoes.
5. Exercise while waiting for children at their after-school activities.

Like Greens resident Sandy Smith, who teaches second grade at Carrollwood Day, the effort has a pay off. Sandy admitted it’s harder to get out of bed during the school year but works out at the Y-Express at 5 a.m. “I am in the habit of doing it now,” she said. “I feel better about myself.”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Swim, Bike, Run: Three Times the Fun

In August Mary Ann Kirsch of The Shires has her eyes on another sprint triathlon.

A sprint triathlon is a shorter distance triathlon. Typically the swim is a quarter to a half mile. The bike ride is usually between 10-13 miles and the run is approximately a 5-10k (3.1-6.2 miles). Kirsch is already in good shape compared to most. She currently does cardiovascular activity five days a week. Additionally, Kirsch’s regimen involves regular strength and flexibility training.

“Time management is critical,” the fitness trainer, instructor, wife and mother of two, advised. She added, “Find a trainer or a buddy that knows how to coach you. Local organizations like the Westchase Swim and Tennis Club, and the YMCA can assist you in preparing for the race.”

The next step is the Olympic Distance Triathlon. It consists of a 0.9 mile swim, 25-mile bike ride, and a 10K run (6.2 miles). St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg sponsors an Olympic Distance Triathlon that sees participants ranging in age from 6-78.

Meanwhile Monika Cassidy of The Bridges is preparing for a full Ironman in 2017. An Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run (a marathon)!

Cassidy has been racing for six years and has completed two-Half Ironman races. The next challenge is double that. “An Ironman starts at around 7 a.m. and must be completed before midnight. You have to have the desire to do this,” she said.

Her advice? In addition to not getting bored, she said, “You mix up your workout and avoid overusing muscles and joints. Here in Tampa, we are able to train year round.”

Cassidy grew up in the landlocked country of Hungary. She did not grow up swimming. She ran track in school. Later, she taught herself to doggy paddle and breast stroke. Then she took swim lessons at the YMCA. Afterward she began swimming in open water.
“We have community pools, beautiful trails in the area, and beaches are an easy driving distance away.”

Cassidy is now team captain of T3triathlon ( “We volunteer. We train and support local racing. We are always present and have a good relationship with the racing community.”

If you’re looking for your next challenge, why not try a tri?

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Summer-Teen Fitness

Kids are always super excited about summer break.

Unfortunately the lure of sleeping the morning away, playing video games and participating in social media beckon teens to a sedentary lifestyle. Yet kids become healthier in mind, body and spirit if they incorporate exercise into their regimen. The more active children are at an early age, the more likely they are to continue through high school, college and beyond.

Former Land O’ Lakes High School athlete Sadie DeJon tries to do something active every day. A sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, the Woodbridge resident enjoys going to the gym and takes a yoga class when possible. She rides her bike often, sometimes with her mother. As a high school athlete, workouts were mandatory. Sadie says she now has to push herself sometimes. “Try and start a routine of working out because it gets more enjoyable and much easier once you're used to doing it!”

Davidsen eighth grader Sarah Frank enjoys reading and writing. She also likes basketball because it encourages teamwork and leadership. She likes that the game improves skills like speed, agility, coordination, endurance and strength. Sarah is working out at the YMCA this summer. Although she doesn’t particularly like it, she is using a stationary bike with resistance for a hard workout to strengthen her legs. The Greens resident is dedicated to getting stronger and is determined to continue developing as an athlete.

Fords resident and Florida Gator Austin Urso ran many miles on Alonso’s cross country and track teams. Austin admits it is not always easy to stay motivated now that running is not mandated by a coach. But the college-bound freshman wants to stay in shape. He suggests hanging out with people who are also active. Although he has reduced his weekly mileage, Urso vows to continue running several times a week. Being part of a team will help form bonds that extend beyond the season. “We are close. We like running together sometimes and talking while we run. Sometimes we just like hanging out.”

Staying active over summer will help your teen develop mental strength and discipline, remain in in good physical shape, and develop off-season improvements in their sport and lasting friendships.

Most important, it will promote good habits for life.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon Thigpen is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Stress and Weight Loss

All of us are familiar with the calories-in/calories-out formula.

If you expend or burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight. That is a scientific fact.

Frustration mounts, however, when you believe you are not consuming a lot of calories yet you hold onto weight like a sponge holds water. You may only be eating one meal a day, or you may be exercising six days a week, yet the scale does not reflect your efforts.

A calorie is a unit of energy contained in the foods we eat. There are four calories in a gram of protein, four calories in a gram of carbohydrates, seven calories per gram of alcohol, and nine calories per gram of fat. Proteins, good fats, and good carbohydrates are all necessary for good health (notice I did not say alcohol, which I am sure some will find debatable).

The body processes calories differently. The term empty calories, for example, describes foods with no nutritional value. These empty calories do little to assist the body in functioning optimally. They ultimately can contribute to weight gain and lead to other health challenges. Nutritional calories, in the proper portions and eaten at the proper intervals, should fuel the body.

In addition to the types and quantity of foods we eat and the time of day we eat, there are many reasons the body may not process nutrients properly. Hormones impact the way our bodies process foods. Two important hormones the body produces are adrenalin and cortisol. Both of these hormones can promote fat storage.

Although the world has changed over the centuries, our bodies function relatively the same; our metabolisms are affected by chemical reactions. The body’s reaction to stress is the same it has been throughout time. Stress releases adrenaline and cortisol. In the past, these chemicals were released due to catastrophic events like famine or war. Yet the modern body reacts to stress the same way – it will hold onto fat. Today, many people are stimulated constantly by the demands of daily life only food is bountiful.

Yes, the calories-in/calories-out formula is indisputable; however, there are many, many other factors. Perhaps pondering the notion may contribute to another stressor for the day – or provide a better understanding of the need to manage stress.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Fit WoMom

Can moms with young children really fit exercise into the nooks and crannies of their day?

How do they schedule time to exercise when it can be a chore just getting everyone dressed and out the door? Do they hold off for a few years until the children are of school age?

Nadiah Sanchez has three children. Her oldest, Alexah, is 4½, while her twins, Kylie and Cole, are 2½. Nadiah admits it’s very difficult to get motivated when you are constantly refereeing quarrels, keeping the children engaged, and taking care of household responsibilities. “I have always been one to work out, so it is always a part of my day. I used to work out much longer when I didn't have kids and realized that would have to change. I don't do super long workouts, but get a great workout in the time I have.”

Unlike Nadiah I was not always active (So there is hope for everyone!). I left my 10-year corporate job to stay home with my three children under 4 years old. In fact, when I quickly realized I needed an outlet, it motivated me to exercise to maintain my sanity! At first it was walking and running. All I needed was a pair of sneaks, and I could go at a moment’s notice. Later I joined a gym.

Nadiah said, “Thankfully my kids will now go into the daycare at the gym so it makes it ten times easier to work out.”

She enjoys checking “daily workout” off of her busy schedule early each morning.

The West Park Village resident also enjoys walks and bike rides with the kids when the weather is favorable. She’s learned to be resourceful. While the children are playing, she sometimes gets in a quick 10 minute workout. She has used YouTube for exercise ideas when she has to work out at home.

Nadiah, however, is grateful to have time at the gym now. The time for herself helps her feel less stressed. How does she fit it in?

“Just like if you have to run an errand, make time for the gym or working out in some way. Just like you would have time to run to Target, you can make time to exercise!”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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When Therapy is Physical

Fitness is not always easy, automatic or guaranteed.

Unfortunately, whether you are physically fit or not, there is always risk of injury. Professional athletes, people who exercise recreationally, and those who stick to daily routines that include very little exercise are all susceptible to injuries.

Injuries may occur from a sudden impact or fall. They can also be from repetitive movements which over time cause wear and tear on joints like shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. The pain can be acute – meaning sudden – or chronic – signifying pain that lingers over months or even years.

Physical therapists can often be a saving grace when assisting in pain management or recovery. They are sometimes the line of defense in preventing surgery; other times, they prove crucial to post-surgery recovery.

Physical therapists are state licensed and hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in physical therapy. Some specialize in specific areas like orthopedics, geriatrics or pediatrics.

Fords resident Liz Costantini, who has a master’s in Physical Therapy and has practiced 20 years, said physical therapy can be hard work. “Patients play an important role in being responsible for their recovery. Physical therapists (PTs) discuss the patient’s goals and expectations of the PT during the initial evaluation. The patients and PTs work closely together to achieve the end result.”

When asked what recommendations she has for anyone looking for a physical therapist, Costantini suggest that you consider: (1) convenience to your home or work (2) acceptance of your insurance, (3) their cancellation policy, (4) their office policy (Is it to see the same therapist at each appointment?) and (5) the individual handling your care (Will it be provided by the therapist or an assistant, known as a PTA?).

“PTAs are licensed professionals who are able to assist physical therapists in providing your care. They are qualified to carry out the treatment plan your physical therapist developed during your initial appointment. The PTA works under the guidance of the PT to provide your care,” explained Costantini.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Core Initiating for a Healthier Body

For many, the New Year brings hope of initiating changes for a better, stronger, more prosperous year.

A goal could be to have a healthier, stronger body. Consider that all movement is initiated from the core. Since the core protects the spine, a weak core can be a recipe for disaster. In order to maintain or regain a healthy back, it is important to have a strong core.

The core is much more than abdominals. Core musculature is made up of two systems. One system contains stabilizing muscles. The other system is responsible for movement. The movement system is the more recognized, more visible, and therefore more popular system to exercise and strengthen. A six-pack (rectus abdominis), for example, is part of the core movement system.

The core stabilizing muscles consist of transverses abdominis, lumbar multifidus, transversopinalis, and internal oblique, which all lay under the core movement system. The pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm complete the core stabilizing muscles.

The core movement system are lattissimus dorsi, (or lats), the erector spinae, external oblique, iliosoas complex, hamstrings, hip adductors and abductors. Both systems work synergistically, so an imbalance of one component can compromise the body’s proper function.

Deconditioned individuals may have weakness in both systems. Moreover, many people who work out regularly may have a muscular imbalance because the movement system is strong but the stabilizing system is weak. In this case, the imbalance can cause movement along the vertebrae with dangerous consequences.

Even when the systems are strong, an injury can suddenly compromise them. When muscles go through trauma, they may shut down. This requires retraining muscles to slowly regain strength, flexibility, and mobility.

Use a progressive process to train you core. The deep stabilizing muscles should be strengthened prior to focusing on strengthening the movement system. A very basic movement that can be done to help protect the back is called the “drawing in maneuver,” for which you pull in the muscles just below the belly button. This causes tightening of the stabilizing muscles. Learning this process is essential and should be performed before initiating movement.

If one of your goals is to strengthen your core, this maneuver can be life altering and initiate the new beginning to a healthier body.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Healthy Holiday Gift Ideas

A few residents helped pinpoint the top ten healthy gifts they’re hoping to see this holiday.

Their lists were filled with tangible and intangible things with their higher priorities the intangible ones.

10.  Blender. If you don’t have a high-powered blender such as a Nutribullet in your kitchen, they are a handy accessory. It’s on the list of Laura and Kevin Rainey of Arlington Park.

9.  FitBit. Andrea Piaccitelli of the Greens would like a FitBit.  Any good quality device is very useful in determining how hard you are working in relation to your fitness goals.   

8.  Bikes. West Park Village resident Jeff Moyer wants bikes for his wife and himself. While always popular holiday gifts for kids, bikes can help adults keep fit without the pounding of running. 

7.  Regular Messages. On the list of West Park’s Carrie Bell, a personal trainer, massages are an excellent gift to give yourself or someone you love.  They aid in recovery, relieve muscle tension and stress, and feel great!

6.  Destination Active Vacation. Moyer would like to do a half marathon/vacation.  Whether it is skiing or a yoga retreat, an active vacation could be amazing!

5.  Less Screen Time. Turn off the television, the computer, the games, and gadgets to create more time for exercise and family quality time.

4.  Healthier food choices. Everyone’s list included making cleaner, more nutritionally dense food choices for overall health and fitness.  Astoria resident Dawn Maggi asked for a new healthy recipe each week.

3.  Rest. Bell and Maggi also mentioned getting more rest. A lack of rest often hinders the fitness results we seek.  For optimal energy, clarity, patience and muscle repair, rest is very important. 

2.  More Water. One of the best, least expensive gifts is better hydration, which reduces headaches, improves energy and decreases bloating and constipation.  Hydration made the Rainey’s top five while Moyer is hoping to decrease his intake of diet soda.

1.  Balance. Ultimately, the desire to create more spiritual, emotional, and physical balance in life was the number one healthy gift choice.  For Maggi, this includes finding ways to exercise outdoors now that her baby is walking and spending more quality time with her husband.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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The Art of Fighting

Martial arts encompass many different forms of fighting techniques for self defense, sport and physical fitness.

The earliest evidence of martial arts dates back millennia. The wide variety of disciplines include Karate, Kung Fo, Taekwondo, jujitsu, capoeira, judo, Krav Magda, Tai chi and mixed martial arts.

Each system is well defined and has an interesting history and tradition. Some use combat or defense weapons and each has a strong code of ethics, which includes discipline and dedication.

Other common benefits of the various forms of martial arts are self control, self respect and respect of others, body awareness and control, agility, balance, strength and flexibility.

Alexey Petrov, 6th Degree Black Belt is the founder and owner of Westchase Impact Martial Arts. As a teenager, Alexey was interested in wrestling and martial arts. After immigrating to the United States, he began teaching at a church. Westchase IMA is 10 years old this month.
The school teaches students of all ages. Petrov enjoys teaching both adults and kids and stated that the only teaching difference lies in the way you communicate.

Greens resident Dylan Swick is a 9-year-old black belt. His mom, Melissa Swick, reflected on ways martial arts has helped her son, “It is not just physical. It is the core values they learn like perseverance, integrity, and having good grades, and a healthy lifestyle,” she said.

West Park Village resident Xander Grigsby started when he was 3 years old. He is now 7. His mom Sara loves his self confidence and sense of accomplishment. “He works very hard and focuses well because he loves it.”

The two primary disciplines that Petrov features at his school are Tae kwon do and Krav Magda. “Any style of martial arts takes a lot of time to learn; therefore, it takes a long term commitment.” He added, however, “The Israeli Military Self Defense, Krav Magda, integrated a lot of disciplines. You can learn the system fairly quickly.”

“The more you do it, the better you are going to get. In a few months you can learn a basic amount of skills,” said Petrov. “With that said, you need to make martial arts a lifestyle.”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Water Fun and Fitness

Water aerobics can be a fun alternative exercise program.

Enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels, the classes are offered at many facilities where there is an indoor or outdoor pool. When traveling or cruising to vacation spots around the world, you will often find water aerobics classes offered at various resort hotels and on cruise ships.

Since most water aerobics classes are designed to be performed in shallow water, you do not have to know how to swim. Yet as Sarah Cacciatore recently learned in her first class, they can still give you a total body workout. Typically, a class will start with a warm up, followed by conditioning, then a cool down, and final stretch. Some classes also use floatation tools like a splashboard or water weights.

Because you are in the water, there is much less impact on your joints. Shirley Gray has been using water aerobics for eight years to help with arthritis. She likes to run waist deep in the water, something she is not able to do on land. Stephanie Beauchamp has had both knees replaced; she has been taking classes for six years.

The water depth is significant. Depending on how much of your body is submerged, you will bear more or less of your body weight. Someone with respiratory challenges, for example, may be more comfortable submerged waist deep and bearing 50 percent of their body weight. If you have chronic conditions like back, hip, or knee challenges, submerging up to your shoulders will cause you to bear 10 percent of your body weight. A water level between chest and shoulders, causing you to bear 35 percent of your weight and taking pressure off of your joints, is considered ideal for the majority.

Linda Senkowicz of Harbor Links has been teaching water aerobics for years. She started teaching in Miami at the Biltmore Hotel and the Ritz Carlton. She has been teaching at the YMCA for over 10 years. Senkowicz loves that there is less stress on your joints yet the resistance of the water surrounding your body makes it a challenging workout. “The casual, fun atmosphere creates camaraderie amongst the participants and keeps them coming back,” she said.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Stretch Your Lifespan

As technology continues to accelerate, daily activities increase the demand for greater productivity and faster performance and results.

Stressed yet?

Along with poor lifestyle choices, stress increases risk of degenerative diseases, cancer, diabetes, stroke and respiratory disease.

Yoga offers a way to physically and mentally slow down, restore, reflect and heal. Perhaps it continues to grow in popularity because people are looking for ways to de-stress. Of course there are individuals who say they could never do yoga because it is too slow or boring. If they suffer from worry and stress, however, yogo just might be a great solution.

Breathing is an important component of yoga. Learning to take full, purposeful breaths can begin to restore health.

Kathy Moloney of The Greens rides her bike to Yoga classes. "What I like most of all is the good mix of physical movement that builds strength and flexibility for the body and the mental/spiritual component that encourages peace and harmony for the head and heart," she said.

Over 100 different paths or types of yoga exist. Hatha is the practice most people associate with yoga (“Ha” means sun and “tha” means moon.) It is expressed using different poses and breath control. Some of the most well known Hatha Yoga styles are Iyengar, Astanga Vinyasa, Bikrum, and Viniyoga. It’s important to approach yoga with an open mind and embrace the differences various methods can provide.

It is also important to both follow your doctor’s orders if you have restrictions and advance at a pace that is right for you. Fords resident Laura Rogers-Evdemon has practiced yoga for five years in conjunction with chiropractic therapy. “I like the ability to improve my core strength and stretch weaker muscles using a low impact method,” she said.

Yoga can be practiced by individuals of all ages. Even children get to use their imagination by posing as animals, plants and other objects.

If you are just starting out, it can be intimidating, so find a beginner class or a gentler yoga class. Do not be afraid to use props to assist you with some of the poses.

If you do, you’ll find yoga promotes healthy bones, improves body awareness, strength and mental focus, increases flexibility, reduces stress and anxiety, assists in weight loss, improves attitude and confidence and helps you age gracefully.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Tennis: An Activity for All Ages

Most tennis players seem to have a champion approach to life.

Among those who play, a strong bond of respect and competitiveness exists.

Some say the precursors of tennis date back thousands of years to the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. There is stronger evidence of French monks playing a hand-ball form of the game, which spread throughout Europe 1,000 years ago.

Today tennis is played throughout the world. The game is played on indoor and outdoor courts whose surfaces can be grass, clay, or asphalt. The basic techniques tennis players strive to achieve are good forehands, backhands, and serves. As long as you are old enough to hold a tennis racquet, there seems to be no age limit.

Dyan Pithers has been playing tennis for three and a half years. Tennis, she said, is “exercise, social, and fun, rolled into one!”

Her 10-year-old son, Jake has also started to play. “It is something we can do together,” she said.

As a busy mother of two, wife, a business owner, and Westchase Community Association Board Member, Dyan’s challenge is finding the time to play. Playing in various leagues forces the West Park Village resident to fit tennis into her schedule several times each week. 

Veteran tennis player and Greens resident, Stephen Katsarelis, loves the speed of the game. Stephen started playing tennis with his older brothers at 2 years old. “Get lessons early from a professional in order to avoid developing bad habits that are very hard to break,” he advised.

Currently rehabilitating from a shoulder surgery, Stephen is itching to get back in the game. “It is incredible exercise, so I can push my body longer and harder than I probably ever would in a gym. I also love the mental and strategic side of the game as it’s like a chess match.”

Benefits of tennis include greater agility, speed, strength, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, coordination and energy. Playing increases emotional wellness, burns calories and provides social opportunities.

Josephine Beaumont of The Shires has played for 38 years. She started playing in her 30’s after having three children. Now 72, she plays in several leagues, favoring doubles, which involves less running around. Beaumont still gets a workout and enjoys the competition. “My goal,” she said, “is to still be playing at 92.”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Prescription for Recovery

While many people are excited about their commitments to be active this summer, you may feel less enthused.

It could be you have an injury or have been diagnosed with an illness. You may be struggling with family difficulties or dealing with severe arthritis.

Whatever the reason, your healing, however, may be directly helped by getting involved in an exercise program. Consider reaching out to others for support. Try a new class or a new activity. It can be a walking group, a tennis club, a low impact fitness class, or something gentle like a meditational yoga class.

The YMCA, for example, has a free 12-week program called Livestrong, designed for cancer survivors and their supporters who live in their homes. The program is offered at over 400 locations around the country. YMCA Wellness Director, Dawn Kita, said, “Anyone who has ever battled cancer in their life is eligible. They meet twice a week in small groups with a certified trainer and Livestrong coach. The sessions are general workouts, but also include mind, body, spirit, through yoga, supporting each other, building relationships with other survivors, and social educational gatherings.”

Laurie Holmes, who lives in The Bridges half the year, is recovering from stage two breast cancer. Laurie has continued working out throughout her treatments as much as possible. She enjoys Jazzercize, swimming, spinning, and the elliptical machine. Her beautiful locks of hair are back now, but she became a regular at the gym as soon as she was able. “It is good to be around people who offer encouragement and support. Being uplifted by others is helpful.” Laurie said.

Laurie puts out her exercise clothes and tennis shoes the night before as an extra motivator. “It is too depressing not to workout,” she said. “If you stay in the house, you stay inside your head and that generates negative thoughts. A little exercise gets the endorphins going.”

If you follow your doctor’s recommendations, exercise is almost always a prescription for recovery. Exercise may help battle depression, improve your recovery and energy levels, increase confidence and help develop relationships.

It may not be easy to take the first step, but exercise is a path to healing.

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit


By Shannon Thigpen


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It’s a Whole New Ball Game

Have you heard of Pickleball?

The game is 50 years old, relatively young for a ball game. Pickleball combines elements of badminton, ping-pong and tennis. It can be played indoors or outdoors. The court is about half the size of a tennis court – the same size as a doubles badminton court.

The game is played by people of all ages and all skill levels. You can play pickleball singles, but doubles are played more often. It’s played in middle schools and high schools around the country. It has become very popular with the retired community, in part because the game emphasizes strategy, finesse and ball placement over fitness level. The game, however, becomes much quicker when intermediate and advanced players compete.

Vince Bowers, Recreation Program Specialist at the Westchase Recreation Center, explained, “Pickleball requires less force, therefore, there is less wear and tear on the shoulders. The paddle is lighter than a tennis racket and the ball is like a wiffle ball, so it is lighter and bigger than a tennis ball.”

The game was invented in the summer of 1965 by three Washington State fathers, Joel Pritchard (who was also a congressman), Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. Their children were bored so they created the game to give them something active and interesting to do. Some say the game was named after the Pritchard’s dog, Pickles. Mrs. Pritchard said the combining of so many sports reminded her of pickle boat crews because the oarsmen are chosen from the leftover crews of other boats. She says their cocker spaniel, Pickles, which they got in 1966 or 1967, was named after the game.

Bob Faulkner of The Bridges likes to play at the Westchase Recreation Center. Bob is retired and lives in Minnesota half of the year and in Westchase the other half. He was an avid racquetball player for 30 years. Bob also bikes and plays tennis. He considers himself an intermediate player and loves the hand-eye coordination necessary in pickleball. “Pickleball equalizes men and women. It’s not how hard you hit. It’s the finesse of your shot, the angle of your shot, and your lob. I enjoy the challenge and social experience.”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Generation Fit

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 14 percent of the children in Florida and over 60 percent of its adults are overweight.

Alarmingly, the majority of children that were overweight were obese. Obesity has grave consequences including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. It also puts a tremendous strain on the economy.

In order to reverse the trend, strategies must be adopted to give our children the best chance of being healthy and maturing into healthy adults. Most would agree that electronics have to be set aside and play time increased.

Fords resident, personal trainer, and mother, Mary Ann Kirsch, encourages parents to let their children play outside. Even when you cannot always be outside, she recommends letting them play outside alone. “Limit their screen time and hang out,” Kirsch says. “Go to the park, ride bikes, play hop scotch, go the beach, whatever!”

The CDC states that children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. CarolLynn M. Smith, owner of My Gym Children's Fitness Center Tampa/Westchase, and mother of two, is passionate about the development of healthy, thriving children. She notes that it is important for parents and children to understand that physical activity does not have to be competitive in nature. “If a child excels at an activity – that’s great, but they need to know that staying healthy and physically active is not in direct correlation to a trophy or a winning team.”

There are countless ideas to help our children be healthy and thrive. A few suggestions include:

1) Visit local parks and walk or bike on trails.
2) Enter fun walk/runs that are affiliated with a meaningful cause.
3) Have children to help with physical chores like sweeping, vacuuming, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, etc.
4) Acknowledge milestones like learning to hop on one foot, riding a bike, learning to swim.
5) Set the example by playing with them whenever possible.
6) Let children pick out veggies for dinner.
7) Allow children to participate in preparing meals.

“I truly love seeing My Gym children grow and develop in the gym and in the community,” Smith adds. “Most of all I enjoy seeing children have fun while being active!”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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One for the Road

Traveling does not have to be an excuse to avoid exercise.

When you travel for business or vacation, you may find you have greater energy and improved sleep if you sprinkle exercise into your day. Depending on the reason for your travel, the exercise may be tapered or not as consistent, but doing something can improve the quality your time away.

Brentford resident Linda Weisman is a Senior Learning and Development Specialist who travels an average of three months per year. "I always book a hotel that has a gym so I can use the treadmill,” she says.

Linda enjoys walking for exercise. She says the fact that she eats most meals out when traveling is motivation for her to be consistent with her workouts.

If you are going on a ski trip (and actually ski), exercise is built into your travel. When you are traveling for business or your vacation travel has no scheduled exercise, however, other options always exist. I recently called a local community college while on the road. They offered a daily pass for a very small fee. Their accommodations included an indoor track.

Glenfield resident Connie Johnson is on the road two to three days a week. "I am diligent about going to the hotel gym before I work each day when I travel,” she says.

Her workout includes elliptical or stationary bike and 10 to 15 minutes of weights. Since Connie travels regularly, she prefers going to the gym when she is on the road. When she is home she enjoys spending more time with her husband and family. Connie also believes her workouts give her the energy to travel and counter work dinners. “I could not imagine travel without working out.”

A few options to exercise while traveling are:

• Carry resistance bands, which are light weight and do not take up room in your suitcase.
• Use your body weight to perform exercises like pushups, jumping jacks, planks and squats.
• Use the fitness facility provided on site.
• Climb stairs if you are in a multi-level facility.
• Walk/run the hotel garage ramp if you are in a multi-level facility
• Walk/run outside.
• Find a local fitness facility where you can pay by the day or week.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Hard Core

Core strength is essential for maintaining a healthy body and improving athletic performance.

Core muscles are not just your abdominals. While also known as the powerhouse and center, they include deep stabilizing muscles that support the spine. Some disciplines, like Pilates, define the core as the pelvis, abdomen, and lower back. Most agree that all movement is initiated from the core.

To engage your core, draw the belly button up and in without holding your breath. Drawing the lower abdominal muscles up and in and ensuring the pelvis is in a neutral position is critical for proper alignment. Think of the pelvis as a cup full of water. If you are standing and have the pelvis tilted forward or backward, the water will spill out. Only when you are neutrally aligned will you not spill water.

Muscles on the back of the body often get ignored during workouts. I call this “mirror strengthening.” Mirror strengthening focuses solely on the muscles that you see in the mirror while neglecting those you do not see. Muscles work in pairs. Over emphasizing certain muscles and ignoring others creates muscular imbalances. Muscular imbalances cause lots of discomfort and can lead to serious injuries.

Begin correcting muscular imbalances by strengthening your center and improving flexibility. Many techniques can strengthen your core. Most core exercises come from yoga and Pilates and are used in disciplines that require balance. Much of the strengthening begins with very subtle movements or isometric contractions. You can use your own body weight or tools like ballet bars, cadillacs, and barrels, as well as bosu and stability balls, a rotational disc and weights.

Try different tools and methods to find what you like. Pure Barre located in the Publix shopping plaza just celebrated its one year anniversary. Franchise owner Aimee O’Neal explained the classes are not dance classes. The ballet bar is used as a tool to assist with balance. Stating she loves Pure Barre, Greens resident Sandy Smith said, “It is a challenging workout that has toned my muscles like no other workout has done before.”

The result? Owner O'Neal stated she used to have back pain but now has none.

Whether you embrace this option or another, it’s time to go hard core.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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On a Roll in 2015

If you’re searching for an excellent activity to begin in 2015 or to take fitness to the next level, it’s time to put your foot to the pedal!

Biking is an amazing sport that helps keep you lean and fit and offers the exhilaration athletes enjoy. Florida residents can enjoy both indoor and outdoor riding year round.

Biking is also non-impact so it can provide cardiovascular exercise without the strain on your knees and ankles.
Bridges resident and competitive cyclist Monika Cassidy offered some helpful advice. “If you have an existing bike in the garage, dust off the old bike and begin using it.”

She suggested you acquire the appropriate gear, including proper shoes and a helmet. For the next step, consider your goals and select the appropriate bike. “A mountain bike, for example, may not be the best choice if your goal is to road train and race,” Cassidy said.

If you are just starting out and are not sure if you will stick with it, consider investing in a second-hand bike. “Brand new bikes can be quite expensive” said the cyclist.

Bike enthusiast John Harrison suggested finding a friend who rides and is willing to teach you the basics. Bike specialty shops can be very helpful in selecting the proper bike. They are also good resources for local trails and events. Some biking clubs offer services for beginners too.

For novice riders trails are far safer than streets. The nearby Upper Tampa Bay Trail and the Suncoast Trail are two options.

Experienced riders can stay motivated by either setting goals for time, speed and distance or entering races. They can develop a regular schedule for consistency and join riding clubs and races to stay motivated.

While you can somewhat simulate outdoor cycling riding indoors, for Cassidy, who started indoor spinning classes before advancing to competitive outdoor cycling, indoor spinning is a totally different experience.

Whether you are considering purchasing a bike (like I am) with a cute basket and bell, or your goal is to do a half ironman like Cassidy (56 miles of biking along with 13.1 miles of running and a 1.2 mile swim!), go for it!

As Harrison said, “Most of all, enjoy the sport!”

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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A Gift of Health

If you are still searching for holiday gift ideas, consider my top ten items promoting fitness and health.

Great for all ages, they range in price from under $20 to over $1,000.

10. Yoga or Pilates mat or gift set: For those that practice, investing in a durable mat like Manduka can be a wonderful gift. Carrying bags, straps and blocks are also wonderful options.

9. Bike: Whether you choose a road bike, a cruiser, or a hybrid, bikes are fun. They are easier on the knees, get you outdoors, and can be great for burning calories. (Indoor stationary bikes are another option.)

8. Resistance Bands: I love these for people on the go! Resistance bands are lightweight and take up very little room in a suitcase. Carry resistance bands and eliminate excuses for not working out because you are on the road.

7. NutriBullet: Here’s a quick and easy way to get fresh fruits and vegetable blends. Infusing all the nutrients including pulps and seeds, it lets nothing go to waste, and cleanup is easy.

6. Fitness Trackers and Watches: Some of the most popular items this year, these handy tools can remind you to exercise, help track eating habits, monitor steps and sleep, and more! Since there is way of knowing the long term effects of the EMFs (electromagnetic fields), they are not higher on my list.

5. Gym or Studio Package: Explore many disciplines and facilities! Some offer full service facilities while others offer specialized training like yoga or Pilates.

4. Water bottles: Many creatively designed water bottles are BPA free. Some come with their own filters. They help you stay hydrated and help you track how much water you are consuming throughout the day.

3. Wii Fit: Wii Fit combines fun and fitness for the entire family. Its programs challenge agility, strengthen and tone, work your core, and improve your balance, cardiovascular strength and endurance.

2. Standing workstation or treadmill desk: This is an excellent way to avoid sitting for hours at a time while working!

1. Fitness shoes: This continues to be my number one gift! Footwear is very important for walking and most exercise. Proper support can help protect hips, knees, and ankles.

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>

By Shannon Thigpen


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A Step in the Right Direction

Feet are extremely important for even the most basic activities.

As long as they are functioning properly and not causing any pain or discomfort, we take them for granted. When an issue arises, however, it becomes paramount to get some relief and correct the problem.

If not corrected, trouble with feet can lead to issues with your knees, hips and back. Sometimes the secondary issue is the symptom, and the correction is to fix the feet. It is the quintessential kinetic chain. You know – the toe bone is connected to the foot bone; the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone, and so on.

The trouble can stem from your foot’s anatomy. No arches or high arches can cause over pronation. Supination can lead to problems as well since your bodyweight is distributed more on the outside of your foot. Standing for long periods of time, or being overweight, can also cause problems with your feet.

One very common condition is plantar fasciitis, a painful tightening of the tissue in the heel of the foot. Another foot condition is plantar fibroma, in which a knot develops under your foot’s arch. It also causes tightening and can be most uncomfortable in the morning. Ingrown toenails and bunions can be caused by the positioning of your feet inside your shoes.

Strengthening leg muscles when there are muscular imbalances can help take pressure off overactive areas of your feet. Stretching can help provide relief from some of the tightness. Taping your feet for particular activities can provide temporary support. The shoes you wear can also make a huge difference. Some shoes are fashionable but not practical, especially if you are going to be on your feet for long periods of time or do activities that require running or jumping. Corrective shoes can be an integral part of the solution.

Alternatively, investing in custom orthotics that can be placed inside your shoes can be costly but worthwhile investments. These are designed specifically for your feet and can be transferred from one pair of shoes to the other. Visit a good physical therapist or podiatrist to help you determine the best course of action for you.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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May the Course Be With You

Psst! You can do it!

Running season is here! Annual races beckon us almost every weekend straight through winter. If you have a goal to complete your first 5k, or you are an experienced runner who is looking to improve your personal record, this is an excellent time to begin training.

The number one strategy to prepare for any run is to get a good pair of running shoes, then put one foot in front of the other! You do not have to necessarily do formal training for a 5k. A 5k is 3.1 miles. You can walk the entire distance if you prefer. I suggest minimally taking several 15-minute walks a few weeks leading up to the 5k. You may be a little sore, but you should complete the race just fine.

If, on the other hand, you are interested and willing to take the time to train, most programs take seven to eight weeks. That will potentially give you enough time to improve your endurance and speed. Several excellent programs are available to help you prepare for your race. Two of the most popular are those of Olympian runner and author, Jeff Galloway, and renowned runner and author, Hal Higdon. You can go online and find programs that will guide you to race day.

Training programs are available for walkers, novice runners and intermediate and advanced runners. Galloway uses a walk/run technique. The 5k novice program, for example, begins with 15 seconds running and 45 seconds walking for 30 minutes on the running days.

Every program contains a day or two of rest. This enables your muscles to recover and is a vital part of training. Plenty of running groups exist that can also help you to prepare. In the Westchase community, for example, World of Beer has a very large running group. Personal Trainer Carrie Bell has also had a running group with the YMCA Express for years. These groups welcome all fitness levels. Westchase resident and running enthusiast, Jeff Moyer, participates in several running groups. He enjoys the social aspects of the groups.

I have personally participated in many races, from 5ks to a full marathon, and I did not begin running until my mid-30s. When I first began training, I could not run from one light post to the next.

If I can do it, so can you!

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Eat More, Weigh Less

I often talk with people who want to lose weight.

They have started a workout regimen, believe they are eating healthy, yet are frustrated because they are not seeing any results. How can they get their metabolism going?

I’ll often tell them, “You are not eating enough.”

Their puzzled looks are followed by certainty that my suggestion is impossible. It’s human nature to reject what we are not ready to hear. It’s been my experience that the idea of eating more often to lose weight is just not an idea that many people can accept.

Interestingly, many people still do not eat breakfast (at least not until it is closer to lunch). Research (and grandmothers) clearly emphasize the importance of eating breakfast. For those who do eat breakfast, their meals are often filled with pastries and quick, prepackaged cereals or bagels. These types of carbohydrates cause your blood sugar to spike and drop rapidly, causing hunger, lack of focus, and lack of energy.

The key is to eat more often and to consume more nutritionally dense foods:

1) Eat breakfast items like slow-cooked oats instead of instant oatmeal.
2) Eat three nutritionally balanced meals and two snacks daily. They should contain healthy protein, healthy carbohydrates, healthy fats and fiber. Space the meals throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels steady.
3) Color your plate. Have a colorful selection of fruit and vegetables on your plate for more nutrients.
4) Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with a protein, and no more than a quarter with a whole grain like brown rice.
5) Avoid high-glycemic items like potatoes, cakes, cookies, rice and pasta that spike your blood sugar.
6) Drink lots of water and limit soda, juice, alcohol and coffees.
7) Avoid eating two hours before bed. Impossible? OK, 90 minutes before bed. Instead, drink water.
8) If you are feeling overwhelmed by this list, pick one change and master it.
9) Avoid purchasing nutritionally empty foods at the grocery store.
10) Go back to 1.

Always consult your physician prior to making health changes. Seek the advice of a certified nutritionist for special circumstances.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Weak at the Knees

A common complaint relates to knee pain or injuries.

Many factors can impact the knees. Knee pain can result from repeatedly sitting too long or repetitive movements from sports. Pain specifically over the front of the knee is known by many names, including runner’s knee, patellofemoral pain and anterior knee pain.

Whether you are rehabilitating an injury or performing exercises to keep your knees healthy, it is important to have strong quadriceps. Quadriceps are a group of muscles in the front of the leg. Quadriceps keep the knee straight under gravity or load. One of the muscles that make up that group is the vastus medialis oblique (VMO). The VMO is located on the inner side of the thigh close to the knee and is sometimes called “teardrop” because of its shape. It helps to keep the knee in the proper alignment and draws the kneecap upward. If it is weak or not firing at all, the other quadricep muscles will overcompensate, causing issues with contracting or releasing the knee properly. When you squat to sit in a chair, for example, if your knee buckles inward, it’s possible the vastus medialis needs to be strengthened. Sometimes the VMO has not fired for so long that electrical muscle stimulation is necessary to recruit the muscle fibers and get them to begin responding again. Always check with an orthopedic physician or a physical therapist for a proper diagnosis.

Various exercises can strengthen this muscle group while focusing on the VMO.

• Put a ball between your feet and squeeze your feet together. Do 15 repetitions. Work up to three sets.
• Single leg squats: Put your weight on one leg. Slowly bend at the hip and knee, keeping your heel down and your knee behind your toes. Press through your heel to come up. Straighten completely before descending again. To make it more challenging, use balance tools like a core board, Bosu, or stability disc.
• Stairmaster: Take steps with your toes slightly turned out.
• Straight leg raises: Sit tall. Turn your toes out slightly. Slowly raise one leg. Do 15 repetitions. Work up to three sets. Repeat on the other leg.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Sleep Like a Baby

Summer is time for rest and relaxation.

For many, vacations, however, do not restore and rejuvenate. Often the underlying problem is a lack of sleep. Seven to eight hours of sleep is recommended each night.

Sleep deprivation can cause many health challenges. Those who sleep less than six hours a night are at greater risk of anxiety, weight gain, lack of concentration, and other health risks that can shorten your life expectancy.

The reasons for not getting proper rest vary. Worry and stress can contribute to sleep deprivation. Some professions have odd work shifts. Sleep apnea, hormonal issues, other medical conditions, certain types of medications, snoring and eating habits can all disrupt sleep.

What are some strategies to winding down and ensuring a good night’s rest? I use many of my own mother’s techniques with my own children because they work. First, it is very important to have a routine. Our ritual each night was dinner, a set bedtime, bath, a story, prayers and lights out.

Here are other suggestions that may help you sleep like a baby:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of natural sunlight each day.
  • Set aside 20-60 minutes three or more days weekly for moderate exercise.
  • Make sleep a priority.
  • Finish meals several hours before bed.
  • Eliminate sugary treats and drinks.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Use soothing and relaxing remedies like Epson salt and lavender oil in your bath.
  • Stretch before or after bathing.
  • Turn off electronics.
  • Have soft, warm colors in the bedroom.
  • Use soothing music and dim or turn off lights.
  • Ensure the bedroom temperature is cool.
  • Avoid texting, checking e-mails, and busy work.
  • Keep a pad on your night stand and write down any concerns so you can address them the next day.
  • Take magnesium and/or melatonin.
  • Read.
  • Think of five things you have to be grateful for that day.
  • Set your alarm.
  • Be consistent with your customized routine.

It may take a while for your body to respond, but you will be able to create better sleeping patterns. If you find the techniques do not work, consult a professional for assistance.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Active, Quality Summertime Fun

Summer vacation begins soon.

Just as activities are planned to keep children from being too idle, parents should prioritize time to participate together in physical activities. Whether the children are tiny tots or young adults, it’s important for the family to stay connected. I call this time active quality time. Active quality time is time set aside for giving your undivided attention to your loved ones and engaging in activities that require playful movement and fun.

It’s a fact that your social circles influence your health. The people you spend time with play a big part in your overall health and well-being. It only makes sense then to make sure that you play an important and healthy role in your children’s social network.

Active quality time does not require that you be good at the activity. It simply must be something your children enjoy. The options are endless: some play in the swimming pool, a walk, a run or a hike. It can involve a hula-hoop or a jump rope or you can play hide and seek, skate or play kickball or tennis.

Although I don’t play basketball, my young adult children and my husband love the game. So I rarely turn down an opportunity to “workout when they are putting up shots (shooting baskets).” What that means is I run around chasing the basketball and passing it back to them. This gives us time to spend together while everyone gets a low to moderate-intensity workout.

Active quality time with your family:

• Displays they are important, which develops and nurtures their emotional health.
• Shows your children that physical activity is fun.
• Reinforces family values.
• Establishes healthy habits.
• Creates opportunities for children to be more relaxed and willing to share.
• Is an inexpensive way of staying connected.
• Conveys to children that you are interested in the things that interest them.
• Helps relieve stress and anxiety.
• Helps everyone sleep better at night.
• Creates traditions and lasting memories.

So make the most of your summer and schedule some active quality time with the family.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Summer Fun, Fitness, and Flavorfully Nutritious Food

As you plan summer activities for your children, consider how they will promote good health.

Children think of summer as time for fun. It can also be an opportunity to include plenty of physical activity and lots of fruits and vegetables to combat the national challenge of obese and overweight kids. According to The Center for Disease Control the numbers who are overweight have tripled since the 1960s.

Although body mass index is not the most ideal standard for determining overweight and obese children, it is accepted as a valid indicator. Children who fall above the 85 to 95 percentile for their age and sex may be overweight; above 95 percentile may be obese. Sadly, many children who struggle with being overweight are more likely to struggle with weight as adults.

Nowadays lots of leisure activities actually promote inactivity. The Current Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance for 2011 shows that 32 percent of children in Grades 9-12 watch television three or more hours each school day. They spend another three hours using the computer for unrelated school work. It is not farfetched to imagine, therefore, that these trends start when the children are much younger than ninth grade and that kids’ time spent watching television and using the computer increases during the summer.

What’s the impact? Half of the children reported they did not have 60 minutes of physical activity at least five of the seven days before the survey and 14 percent did not engage in 60 minutes of activity any day during the week prior to the study. All of the numbers were worse for girls than boys. Further, numbers for the state of Florida, which has the best weather year for outdoor activity throughout the year, was slightly worse than the national average.

We know kids can be picky eaters and fast food is often convenient, relatively inexpensive choice. Yet much of it has a lot of calories and few nutrients, ultimately undermining healthy eating. During the seven days before the survey, for example, 38 percent of kids consumed less than one vegetable per day, and six percent didn’t eat a single one. Twenty-eight percent drank at least one soda per day.

The key to having healthy children who become healthy adults is combining fun, fitness and flavorfully nutritious food. This is just some food for thought as you review the plethora of options and make summer camp choices for your children.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Assess Your Real State of Fitness

People often obsess over weight, yet it’s just one fitness indicator.

Fitness assessments offer benchmarks that enable you set realistic, measureable goals. Last month the winner of the popular television show, The Biggest Loser, was announced. The winner, who won a lot of money, lost a great deal of weight. She lost so much weight that she was underweight and had no muscle tone. She was unhealthy and faced a greater risk of various health challenges.

BMI or Body Mass Index is another popular indicator. It classifies individuals in four categories: underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. BMI can be misleading because it is derived by comparing a person’s weight and height. If you are bigger boned, and/or have a larger muscle mass, the number could be off. Although by itself it can be misleading, when put together with other indicators, BMI can be useful.

A circumference measurement, known as the waist-to-hip ratio, also gives meaningful insight. The circumference of the waist is divided by the circumference of the hips. For women this number should be around 80 percent or lower. For men a WHR greater than 95 percent represents greater risk for many degenerative diseases. Central body weight has been linked to predisposal to diabetes, many cancers, heart disease and other degenerative diseases.

Resting heart rate and cardiorespiratory assessments can be done using heart rate monitors and a fitness test. By understanding your resting heart rate, and having an exertion indicator, you have a benchmark to improve cardiovascular fitness.

Another interesting assessment can quickly and easily identify muscle imbalances that can increase your risk of injury. Observing your posture and alignment while performing squats with your arms raised overhead can offer great feedback. Your feet turning out, your knees turning inward, your lower back arching, and your shoulders falling forward can all indicate muscles that may be overactive or underactive.

For example, if the lower back arches excessively when performing the squat, tight overactive hip flexors and weak underactive gluteus and abdominals may be the culprits.

Qualified trainers can easily assist you when making assessments and help you to set attainable goals. This way, when developing your personalized plan of action, you are equipped with more information than just the number on the scale.

By Shannon Thigpen

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>


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Maintaining the Family’s Body

Maintenance, restoration, and renovation can keep the family body healthy and whole – just like they help a home.

What are some of the things that can be done to restore and revitalize your body and those of the entire family?

Most importantly, focus on speaking affirming words. Refrain from criticizing and replace criticism with encouraging dialogue. Compliment the behaviors you would like to see more of and refrain from commenting on the behaviors you have expressed repeatedly that you do not like. This includes your own self talk, which can often be extremely critical.

Encouragement will help build strong, healthy bonds that can survive inclement weather.

When considering healthier food choices and activities, think of creative ways to make selecting healthier choices fun. Living a healthy lifestyle does not mean you are condemning yourself to a life of gloom and doom. Begin making small, meaningful changes that can become part of your lifestyle as opposed to temporary quick fixes from which you expect results overnight. It may take a little extra patience, but it the end, it is well worth the investment.

Here are a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing:

Try fasting or doing without a food item or other behavior for a period of time. For example, as a family, if you are accustomed to eating fast food, agree to not eat fast food for a week or two. Or go without sweets or chips, or sugary drinks for a period of time.

Establish periods of times when everyone puts electronics  and television remotes away and goes out to play. Even if it is for a few hours, this time can be powerful family restoration time and will keep the foundation of the family sturdy for years to come.

Design a fitness course that each family member completes. Have three events, perhaps a half mile run or walk, 20 jumping-jacks and 20 pushups. Give each member three tries. Record the time it takes to complete the course each time using a stop watch. The objective is for each person to improve their personal best.

With some maintenance, restoration and renovation, you can have your family feeling like new too.

Shannon is a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist who teaches at the YMCA and trains privately. Visit<./p>

By Shannon Thigpen


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