Becoming fit, staying in shape feels right for many in Berkshires


Related | Runners find their own pace at Berkshire Running Center

PITTSFIELD — Last September, Aimee Knysh took one look at photos of her 5-foot-1, 155-pound frame and realized she had reached a tipping point.

"I was completely sedentary and eating way to much — no portion control," said Knysh, a 34-year-old advertising professional, mom and wife. "I was the heaviest I had ever been."

Since high school, she said she has struggled with her weight that has fluctuated due to various diet and exercise programs that truly proved ineffective after giving birth to her son Connor eight years ago.

Workouts and Weight Watchers just weren't re-shaping her form.

In October, Knysh found Beachbody," a weight loss and exercise program that led to a lifestyle makeover. She stopped eating processed foods, measured and monitored what she ate, and exercised regularly to at-home workout videos.

The result? Knysh lost 26 pounds. She wears slimmer clothing — down two pant sizes to size 6 — and feels comfortable again in a hot tub.

"My goal was to be fit and I wanted to look good again in a bathing suit," she said. "The dieting wasn't about not eating, but the right nutrition."

Knysh's initial success is one of perseverance and a realization that one's health and well-being can improve no matter one's age or when one commits to it, according to fitness and wellness experts. Two months into 2016, about one-third of Americans who made New Year's resolutions — usually to diet and exercise — have failed to keep them; within six months, the failure rate jumps to 56 percent, according to WebMD.

Year-round resolve

Suzanne Merritt, a licensed personal trainer and president of Lenox Fit, says if you're going to take care of yourself, you don't need Jan. 1 as a starting point.

"I want people to realize we're not a resolution gym," Merritt said. "We have a product that we believe in 365 days a year."

"If you move every day and take in less food you'll be in better shape," said Shiobbean Lemme, who co-owns Berkshire Running Center with her husband, Kent Lemme.

Whether exercising at home, at a fitness center, with a running group or walking a couple miles each day, one needs to be mentally prepared and committed to having a body in motion that stays in motion.

"The motivation is where it starts — it must come from you," said Lisa Laramee, a registered nurse with Berkshire Health Systems' Wellness at Work program. "I know when I don't exercise, I don't feel right."

So where to start? When it comes weight loss, begin with realistic goals, according to Wellness at Work coordinator Carol Nixon.

"Do your goals in small increments and build up," Nixon said. "It's better to do a gradual approach."

The same goes for exercising. Allow for flexibility in your workouts especially if your body is stressed out, Laramy said.

To each his/her own

How one exercises to get and stay fit is up to the individual, but guidance is necessary, especially if one is recovering from an injury or finished rehabilitation following medical treatment or surgery.

"A lot of time, people don't know what's the next step," Merritt said. "They've been released from physical therapy and they are coming to the gym for the first time."

Medical reasons also play a role in overhauling one's diet.

Beth Maturevich drastically altered her eating habits four years ago, in part, to detoxify her body of a breast implant illness. She has gone gluten-free, sworn-off processed foods and takes the time to prepare her own meals from scratch.

"We need to get back to those times of using real food ...the difference in my body and mind is amazing," she said.

Merritt and her staff at Lenox Fit recognize that members have varied reasons for working out. Some are looking to bulk up and lift weights; others use tread mills and elliptical machines to improve the heart rate and burn fat. Some like the camaraderie group sessions offer. Others prefer the one-on-one workout with a personal trainer.

For the sake of mind and body, Jim Bienvenue, of Pittsfield, can be found regularly on an elliptical machine at Lenox Fit.

"If I don't work out, I would be the size of Rhode Island," said the 47-year-old, who played hockey in his younger days. "This is my time to unwind. I get grumpy when I don't work out."

Run for it

The Berkshire Running Center has a six-week program for rookies. While the Lemmes started the program to get people moving, the couple put a focus on the education and training aspects of running. Ultimately, many participants end up running a road race.

"Most, if not all, are now running 5Ks, becoming part of the BRC family," said Kent Lemme. "Running is also the purest form of calorie burn."

Kristen DeMaggio, of Pittsfield, recently joined BRC's rookie runners class to re-establish a regular fitness routine. Prior to college, the 45-year-old transplant from Denver played competitive sports and occasionally hit the slopes. By her mid-30s, DeMaggio would frequent a fitness center. Now, she hopes a group setting will be the motivation she is seeking to bolster her healthy lifestyle.

"I wanted to get into this as a fitness goal with no intention of running races," she said.

A slower-paced approach to exercise, i.e. walking, was Anne Del Grande's elixir to feeling better about herself and losing some weight. About three years ago, the Lee businesswoman started walking two to three miles four mornings a week. The hairstylist said standing still for several hours a day was killing her knees.

"I said to myself, 'Oh, my God, Anne. Do something about this working in pain,' " she said.

Del Grande also went on a low carbohydrate diet and started walking with a friend.

"When you're doing it with someone you know, you have to get up out of bed," she said.

When you're young

The wellness epiphany isn't limited to the aforementioned thirty-, forty- or fiftysomethings. Many younger Berkshirites understand athleticism doesn't guarantee staying fit.

Lenox Memorial Middle and High School soccer player Michael Abdalla had to forgo winter sports because of a concussion he suffered in the fall. The 15-year-old sophomore joined Lenox Fit to build muscle strength and endurance so he wouldn't lose his edge on the field.

"I run a 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds — almost like pro-speed, and I don't want to lose that," he said.

Abdalla also found several friends work out after school too, which pleases 19-year-old Emma Merritt. Exposed to a healthy lifestyle, the daughter of Suzanne Merritt has learned to take care of the whole body from an early age.

"For teens and young adults, working out is important. Start off with good habits when you're young," Emma Merritt said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.

10 no-excuses tips to exercise

Here are 10 daily get active tips from Russell Pate, professor in the Department of Exercise at the University of South Carolina, courtesy of Wellness at Work program of Berkshire Health Systems.

• Get out the leash and walk your dog. It's a great activity for both man and man's best friend.

• Take your child for a brisk walk. It's an excellent way to get some one-on-one time (or one-on-three, depending on the size of your brood). Spice up your routine by exploring new neighborhoods or turning your walk into a scavenger hunt.

• Mall walk. Are you sweating (or shivering) at the idea of walking outside? Take a brisk stroll around your local mall instead. Window shop, people watch and give your heart a workout in a climate-controlled environment.

• Join a team. Pick an activity you love and round up some friends. Team sports can be fun — and keep you motivated and accountable.

• Walk and talk. Even if you're glued to your phone for work calls, you don't have to be glued to your seat. Make it a habit to talk and walk. Some workplaces have walking paths to make it even easier to burn while you earn.

• Tune into fitness during TV time. Reject your inner couch potato. Walk, jog in place or use the treadmill at the gym while you watch your favorite 30-minute show.

• Park and walk. How many times have you circled the parking lot to find "the" spot? Spare yourself the stress and gain more energy by parking far away (or even in a remote lot) and walking farther to your destination.

• Take the stairs. The elevator may go up — but it doesn't make your heart rate climb. Take the stairs instead. You may huff and puff at first, but over time, your body will thank you.

• Dance. Do it in a ballroom, at a club or even in your living room. You'll burn calories and gain a new hobby.

• Skip the cake, say goodbye to pie and take a walk after dinner. You'll get a reward that's sweeter than dessert: more family time.


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