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Experts: Holidays should include exercise

JULIE LANE PHOTO Don’t take a holiday break from healthy living that includes good food and regular exercise, advises Suzette Smith of Shelter Island Pilates.
JULIE LANE PHOTO | Don’t take a holiday break from healthy living that includes good food and regular exercise, advises Suzette Smith of Shelter Island Pilates.

It’s not January 1 when resolutions should kick in or even spring when you start cringing about what you’re going to look like in a bathing suit.

Instead, it’s the holiday season, filled with super-sized portions of rich food and exercise restricted to shopping.

But Suzette Smith said that instead of thinking pie and lattes, she’s hoping more people will think pilates.

Ms. Smith, proprietor of Shelter Island Pilates, noted that right now is the perfect time to keep up with exercise patterns developed during the summer, or start a new regimen that will inspire you to enjoy regret-free holidays.

When people start thinking about body image and develop positive awareness, they tend to open up to a different world of food choices, Ms. Smith said.

Pilates, for the uninitiated, isn’t just the latest craze for young people, she said. It’s a means of strengthening muscles and developing improved body alignment, contributing to a healthier lifestyle.

Ms. Smith works with people of all ages. Her oldest client is 89 and has been working with her for 15 years. What she teaches her students in private and group sessions is to work within their physical limitations, but to stretch their abilities to strengthen posture and improve joint mechanics.

What’s great about pilates, Ms. Smith said, is how well it matches up with cardio exercises that Moussa Drame teaches.

Islanders may know him for his summer tennis program, but like Ms. Smith, he’s on the Island in the off-season at Shelter Island Yoga & Fitness, running programs Fridays through Mondays.

Spinning classes attract many people at this time of year, Mr. Drame said. He’s also teaching chair lift exercises and yoga.

Like Ms. Smith, Mr. Drame works with people of all ages and adapts programs to meet individual needs.

Beginners are always welcome, he said, adding, “People get scared sometimes,” but they shouldn’t let that stop them. Staff members will work one-on-one to help novices get in the swing of an appropriate exercise program.

Novices start to feel better and gain confidence very quickly.

“There are plenty of options here on Shelter Island and no excuses,” Maggie Davis said. She teaches fitness classes three mornings a week in the town program during the off-season, with people ranging between 40 and 70 years old. In season, she also offers private training.

“Energy promotes more energy,” Ms. Davis said about making exercise a steady habit, adding that It doesn’t have to consume a great deal of time. Even 20 to 30 minutes of walking a day can help to keep a person in condition.

That’s in line with national studies that show 10 to 20 minute breaks are more productive than a 40 minute session because the shorter bursts improve the feel-good serotonin that reduces the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and combats stress, according to “Women’s Health” magazine.

Similar information comes from WebMD, which also points out that disrupting the exercise cycle through the holidays makes it more difficult to resume in January.

Holidays bring social pressures, stress and often high emotions. Exercise helps to keep these swings in check, the New England Journal of Medicine reports.

Part of the problem for many people is their focus on weight loss, not on health, Ms. Davis said. Exercise helps regulate blood glucose levels, blood pressure and it elevates your mood, she said.

So does that mean no holiday treats?

Not at all, Ms. Davis said.

“Have your special treats, but don’t go whole hog,” she said.

Too much sugar or too much alcohol can wreak havoc with your health, she said. On the other hand, a regular exercise program can add years — and quality — to your life.