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How the Experts Get Their Exercise

What you can learn from the health pros.

Lower half of someone in workout clothing, stretching their hamstring
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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Getting and staying fit can be a challenge. You’re on deadline at work, the kids need supplies for the science project that’s due tomorrow, and the laundry just keeps piling up. So when you do have a free minute, you’re too exhausted to get off the couch. But you know exercise is crucial—it strengthens the heart, helps with weight control, reduces the risk for certain cancers, improves mood ... need we go on? The current recommendation is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week (that’s 30 minutes five days a week), or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week (that’s 15 minutes 5 days a week), or a combination of both, plus strength training at least twice a week. So what’s the best, most time-effective way to slip a workout routine into your busy day? Let’s see how the experts do it.

Evelina Grayver, MD, director of the Coronary Care Unit at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital

Evelina Grayver, MD, Coronary Care Unit director, Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at NSUH
Photo credit: Lee Weissman/The Well

Why exercise is so important to me: Exercise is my mental release. It’s my meditation. When I’m working out I get into a zone—my pager’s not going off, my cell phone’s not ringing, and I’m not thinking about anything else. The physical benefits of exercise are like the cherry on top.

How I get it all in: My work day starts early and being a mom means my day begins even earlier. I try to get my workout in before I wake up my daughter. I have a Peloton bike in my house, so most mornings when my alarm goes off at 5:20, I hardly have to open my eyes. I stumble out of bed, grab a sports bra and some socks, and get on the bike. I warm up for about five or 10 minutes and then cycle hard for 30 to 45 minutes. On the days I don’t ride, I make it a point to take my workout clothes with me and go straight to the gym from work. If I were to walk into my house first, I’d never get back out, so I don’t give myself a choice. Lately I’ve been loving a new kind of class called Solid Core that works on the Pilates machine. And to get a full body workout, I have been incredibly involved in Orangetheory fitness, which is a high-intensity interval training program under personalized supervision.

My favorite post-workout snack: A lot of water to rehydrate, then something like an omelet, a couple of hard-boiled eggs or a yogurt parfait, which are all full of protein to help build and strengthen muscle tissue.

What I tell people who don’t get enough activity: Ask yourself, what’s exercise to you? By 50, my father had already had six stents in his coronary arteries. The fear of that genetic predisposition pushes me toward prevention. And being a mother, I want to inspire my child to maintain heart-healthy habits. Eighty percent of heart disease is preventable, and exercise is one of the best things you can do to prevent it. 

Bobbie Arnel, personal trainer in Merrick, NY

image of Bobbie Arnel, personal trainer
Photo credit: Lee Weissman/The Well

Why exercise is so important to me: Working out makes me feel good physically and mentally. Plus, I like food! If it’s my birthday, I have a big piece of cake. If I’m at the best pizza place on Long Island, I have a slice of pizza. Maybe even two. And I’ve seen it time and again—deprivation never works. Also, diabetes runs in my family, and exercise helps regulate blood sugar.

How I get it all in: Unless it’s freezing, I’m doing something outside. I’m so lucky to live near the water. I can walk out my back door, get in my kayak, and paddle out to the bay. On other days I’ll hop on my bike and cycle around the neighborhood or to the beach. I take every opportunity to combine the outdoors and exercise. I often strength train outside as well. Some local parks I frequent have fitness stations. But if I’m just walking the neighborhood, I’ll stop along the way and do step-ups and dips on a park bench and do pushups against a fence or railing. 

My indoor faves are the treadmill and the elliptical. And I like toys—medicine balls, stability balls, kettlebells, the TRX. I’m always changing it up to keep things fresh.

My favorite post-workout snack: I don’t necessarily eat right before or after a workout, but every two to three hours, I have something with protein. Eggs and nuts are my go-to snacks because they help with muscle repair and they’re easy to eat on the go.

What I tell people who don’t get enough activity: Find something you enjoy and just do it. Exercise doesn’t always have to mean a gym. Go bicycling, bowling, play tennis, take a ballroom dancing class. If it's not fun, you’re not going to do it. 

Roger Gerland, physical therapist and director of Northwell Health Rehabilitation Services at STARS Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Services

image of Roger Gerland, director of STARS
Photo credit: Lee Weissman/The Well

Why exercise is so important to me: I compare it to having a cup of coffee in the morning—I get that kind of energy from it. Also, as a physical therapist, I’m hyperaware of the fact that as you age, strength training is essential to maintaining muscle mass, which helps you perform everyday tasks. A lack of muscle mass can even shorten your life span, due to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

How I get it all in: Sometimes I start my day at about 5:30am in my home gym. I don’t love running, but I’ll get on the treadmill and run a mile or so. Then I’ll do some strength training, like pushups, arm raises, curls, or bench presses with dumbbells, and then planks for core work. Other days, I’ll go to the gym and work on the larger muscle groups. I do things like back squats, lunges, and deadlifts with barbells. I try to incorporate stability work as well since balance can become a problem as we age. So, for example, between lifts, I’ll stand on one foot while moving my upper extremities and rotate my head to increase difficulty.

I also play in a racquetball league. I get about 75 to 120 minutes of vigorous competition twice a week. My wife and I have also started a new routine since our daughters went to college: We take an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood almost every night. It’s a great time to chat about our days and to destress together.

My favorite post-meal snack: Chocolate milk and a banana, which helps to replace the potassium and electrolytes after excess sweat loss during exercise. And subjectively, I feel like chocolate milk gives me more energy after a workout.

What I tell people who don’t get enough activity: Make a mental deal with yourself—if you reach your fitness goal, treat yourself to something you love. For instance, if you get on the treadmill five times this week, you can play a round of golf this weekend. If you lift weights this morning, reward yourself with an ice cream sundae tonight.

Jonathon Holden, RN, CCRN, ICU nurse at North Shore University Hospital

Jonathon Holden, RN, CCRN, ICU nurse at North Shore University Hospital
Photo credit: Lee Weissman/The Well

Why exercise is so important to me: I grew up watching my parents make exercise a part of their lives, so those habits just stuck. We lived on a cul-de-sac and when my siblings and I were young, I remember my mother setting us down to play on the stoop while she ran the circle over and over. Plus, in my job as a nurse, I often take care of people at their worst. So I never want to take my own health for granted. And staying healthy and fit takes effort.

How I get it all in: I change it up all the time but one of my favorite workouts is Vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa is a series of poses linked together with breath. It’s a great workout for anyone, at any level—it builds strength by using your own body weight while incorporating cardio and flexibility.

I also love horseback riding, which is a great way to engage your core and really work your legs. And at least once a week I do chores in the barn, which is more of a workout than you think. Cleaning the stalls, raking, sweeping, scrubbing, dumping the water buckets all get your heart rate up and build muscle.

My favorite post-meal snack: A protein shake, which helps with tissue repair and protein synthesis, and tons of water to help rehydrate.

What I tell people who don’t get enough activity: Use social media to motivate you. I’ve found some great Instagram accounts of people who share their successes, which in turn helps motivate me. And they back up their claims with science. As a nurse, the science is important to me.

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Published June 25th, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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