The Hour Of Power

February 16, 2003|By Elizabeth Large | By Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

You've seen them playing basketball with rabid intensity -- both knees taped -- or smiling while they jog through city streets. You've heard them say they get up when it's still dark to get in their morning swim before work. Didn't you ever wonder what motivates people who love exercise for its own sake?

It probably isn't the Institute of Medicine's latest recommendation on physical activity, which suggests that Americans should get an hour of exercise a day. (This is twice as much as the surgeon general previously recommended.)

The problem, of course, is that doctors have trouble getting people to do any exercise, let alone an hour of it a day. It's been estimated that two-thirds of us are couch potatoes.

But what about those people who actually do exercise as much as they're supposed to -- or more? Not professional athletes, but people who have jobs, families and lives.

Here are four such men and women. They like the competition, the companionship, and the high they get from working out. They even have some advice for others who want to get in shape and stay that way.

Kim Cason's best advice:

Set modest goals initially. "If you try to do an hour a day six days a week and then don't do it, you won't do anything at all."

Exercise loves company

The staff at Quest Fitness in Ellicott City call Kim Cason a "group fitness groupie." She doesn't mind. "I don't really like exercising on my own," Cason, 43, says. "I'd get bored just doing the treadmill."

Most days of the week Cason, who lives in Mount Hebron, takes classes in step aerobics, weights and cycling.

She ticks off the reasons she enjoys exercising. There's the social aspect: She likes her instructors and the other women in the classes. She feels better and is more energetic; she has better muscle tone and less body fat. And, of course, "If I exercise, I can eat more."

Friday night is pizza night at the Cason home; she indulges without guilt.

As her life has gotten more stressful -- she is a psychologist and the mother of a 10-year-old and 4-year-old -- she has started spending more time in the gym. It's not easy fitting in classes, but it's worth it to her. (She attends one at 6 a.m. so she can get to her Pikesville office by 9:30.)

When she goes on vacation, she packs a jump rope and an exercise band and uses them to stay in shape. She also jogs outdoors when the weather is warmer.

Her husband is willing to baby-sit, a necessity when you have the kind of schedule she does. "He's very complimentary," says Cason, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. "He likes the results."

She wasn't physically active until her 20s, when her mother suggested they join a health spa together. Cason went regularly, until she was pregnant with her second child and ordered to go on bed rest; then the baby was colicky and couldn't be taken to the gym. After almost a year, she put her foot down. Her daughter would have to get used to the gym's baby-sitting service.

"In the first class I got that high again," she says. "It didn't take me long to get back into it."

Jason Powell's best advice:

Stick with it. "If you decide to take one day off, it can turn into two days. It can snowball. It's easy to make excuses."

A rugged sport

If you love a sport, you need to be in shape to play it. When it's rugby, a run-and-scrum sport played without timeouts or substitutions, you have to be in fantastic shape. (You've probably seen the bumper sticker: "Give blood. Play rugby.")

Jason Powell, 28, trains for the Baltimore amateur league season by doing an hour or so of weight training alternating with sprint work at a track. His week includes a session of interval training and at least one jog of three or four miles. When the rugby season starts in the spring, he'll have twice-a-week practices and games Saturday.

Oh, yes. Sometimes he runs for 20 or 30 minutes before work.

When you ask Powell, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds, why he exercises as much as he does, he says, "For self-gratification as much as anything else."

His schedule would be easier to understand if he didn't have a life outside the playing fields. But he has a full-time job as a client manager at T. Rowe Price in Owings Mills, with a half-hour commute each way from his home in Federal Hill.

"I have to [exercise] right after work," he says. "If I go home first, I don't do it."

He usually doesn't get home from his workouts until 7:30 p.m., and he falls into bed at 10 p.m. With this much physical activity, he finds he needs eight hours of sleep a night.

But even people who love to exercise have their ups and downs. In December, Powell took a couple of weeks off. "Getting started again was the hardest," he admits.

Powell started playing rugby at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, but really got into the sport when he studied in Japan in '96. The Japanese, he says, are rugby fanatics.

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