Towson's Josh Levinson makes fitness his business

For the Towson Times
The Vivofit is a more sophisticated version of a pedometer, while boasting several other functions as well.

Josh Levinson is definitely in lockstep with a healthy lifestyle and the West Towson father of three is taking friends, family and clients along on his journey.

Some of the others who have joined Levinsons quest to make fitness fun include two private schools and his dentists, Drs. Jay Shires and Keith Schmidt, whose Towson-based practices staff has fully embraced the concept of counting steps via the Garmin Vivofit activity tracker.

The device looks like a futuristic watch and is worn around the wrist, much like several of its competitors in the increasingly crowded activity tracker market.

In essence, the Vivofit is a much more sophisticated version of a pedometer, while boasting several other functions as well.

The gizmos main function is to monitor and collate the wearers activity and synchronize the results to a smart phone and/or a laptop.

For the most part, that means measuring the number of steps taken by means ofan accelerometer, a device that measures proper acceleration, also known as G-force.

Vivofit is also capable of showing the time, date, miles traveled, calories burned, daily goals and heart rate, provided its linked to a heart rate monitor, on a small LCD screen. Pressing a button to the right of the display allows the wearer to toggle back and forth to view the various data.

How Vivofit came to the dentists is a matter of good fortune and coincidence for Levinson, who owns five Charm City Run retail running and walking stores in the Baltimore metropolitan area, including one in Lutherville. Another of his enterprises, Vita, a womens running store, is slated to open this summer in Belvedere Square.

After Levinson sold the Vivofit concept of measuring steps and meeting healthy goals to the staff at Garrison Forest School, 68 members of the Roland Park Country School faculty and staff followed suit. They were divided into 11 teams to compete against each other while using the gadget.

Teams were made up of cross-divisional and cross-departmental members to encourage interaction between groups that might not necessarily have any contact with each other, according to Sean Donmoyer, the schools assistant director of athletics, Dwyer Fitness Center coordinator and varsity swimming coach.

Each week, team captains reported their teams average step count for the week, and the winning team was determined by the highest average step count, Donmoyer, of Towson, said. The winning team averaged just over 99,000 steps per week while the 10 other teams ranged in weekly averages from just about 73,000 up to just over 90,000 steps per week.

Around the same time both private schools were getting in step with their Vivofits, Levinson went in for his semi-annual appointment with Shires, whose wife, Kathy, is Roland Park Country Schools comptroller.

A comment or two from Levinson about how well the group at Roland Park was doing convinced Shires to sign up his partner, Schmidt, and nine employees to adopt the Vivofit lifestyle.

The timing was great, said Levinson, 43, who opened his first store in Timonium 12 years ago after graduating from Washington and Lee University and earning a masters degree in business from the University of Texas. Dr. Shires was already sold on the idea when I approached him. It was just a matter of following up and getting him more information.

Fostering friendly competition among Shires, Schmidt and their employees is a win-win situation for the practices collective health.

Its gotten me off my butt, said Shires, a 54-year-old Hunt Valley resident. My treadmill at home used to just take up space. As a healthcare provider, I needed to do better. [The Vivofit] holds you to task and makes you accountable.

Employee Kathy Wright said that one of her colleagues put up a chart in the office and keeps a running total of the staff members individual steps, which fosters friendly competition and bragging rights.

I get up early to walk, said Wright, of Towson. I think were doing it for 12 weeks, and I plan to keep on working out on my own after its over.

A dental assistant, Jayne Beaumer, is the groups leading step-taker, according to Shires.

Shes ruthless, he joked about Beaumers ability to outwork her co-workers.

Regardless of whether he is trying to keep relatively close to Beaumer or just being more active for his own benefit, Shires said he has dropped 16 pounds from his 6-foot frame and is down to 241 pounds.

To that end, he now hops on the treadmill for daily pre-dawn 4-mile walks.

My goal is just to continue with what Im doing, he said proudly. The rest will take care of itself.

Hes also proud of his daughter, dental hygienist Holly Kohout, who now walks with his infant grandson, Lane, to keep in shape.

All of the positive reaction from the Shires and Schmidt practice is music to Levinsons ears.

A lot of organizations are looking for wellness programs, and they have things like wellness fairs, Levinson said. But they dont stick. This does stick, and its sustainable. It seems to be working well for them.

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Vivofit also works for those interested in competing against themselves, such as Lisa Costello, a Towson resident and Charm City Run apparel buyer.

Whenever I dont wear it for a while, I definitely tend to slack off, said the former Notre Dame Prep varsity lacrosse coach. And then once its back on , I am muchmore likely to be accountable for my steps.

Costello was the liaison between Charm City Run and her alma mater, Garrison Forest, where Amy Welling teaches second grade.

The Southland Hills resident, who runs an average of between 15 to 20 miles a week and walks almost every day through the West Towson neighborhood with her dogs, uses the device as a fitness incentive.

I wanted to be able to track my steps, but mainly I needed the motivation on those days when I dont feel like running or walking, said Welling, who received her band through the schools voluntary employee wellness program launched last August. My Vivofit keeps me honest, and I really like being part of a team and helping my team reach our step goals. Each night, I check my band and if I havent reached my steps, I get the dogs and we go for a walk.

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