Getting women to go on a workout path


Dr. Pamela Peeke calls herself an "edutainer." An expert on fitness, stress management and nutrition, she has a credential-heavy traditional resume: assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland Medical School, first senior research fellow at the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine, member of the Maryland Governor's Council on Fitness and more.

Peeke, 50, also regularly flexes her media muscles on Today, Larry King Live, NBC Dateline and Oprah. She's a team physician for the Washington Wizards, runs a private practice (the Peeke Performance Center in Bethesda), leads spa-based Peeke Week retreats and has her own Web site:

In 2001, Peeke wrote Fight Fat After Forty, a best-selling book that focused in part on how chronic stress can cause weight gain. Her new book Body for LIFE for Women (Rodale, $26.95) reflects her interest in the relatively new field of gender-specific medicine.

Body for LIFE for Women includes a 12-week plan for "physical and mental transformation." Slackers may find inspiration in the mini-biographies (including before-and-after photos) of women who swear by the program.

Peeke favors a mind-body approach to fitness that emphasizes a woman's hormonal and physiological differences. Appropriately, she spoke with The Sun by cell phone, while doing a morning workout on her elliptical trainer.

What are the biggest misconceptions your patients have about health and fitness?

One, that you can fix it in the short term and go back to where you were -- that it requires no significant change in the way you live.

Second thing, they forget how much the mind plays into it, especially for women. The biggest speed bump is mental.

The third thing is, you can't turn back the hands of time. Don't expect to look 20 years younger. The good news is you may be surprised at the things you can do.

You speak in the book of women getting derailed from fitness goals by certain gender traits, one being their propensity for "care giving without limits." Do you have to be a little selfish or vain to stay in shape?

I don't say the word "vain" because it has negative connotations. What I say is, if you're going to care-give, you've got to give with balance. The healthy caregiver is the best caregiver.

The B word, balance, is the key. It doesn't have to be 50-50. You work out the ratio. But whatever it is, the end result must be better health.

Can you distill your "Mind-Mouth-Muscle" philosophy into a few sentences?

It's sort of a holistic approach. In a few words, the mind thing would include two characteristics: One, learn to become more stress- resilient. That goes hand in hand with the second characteristic -- the people who are most successful in life are master re-groupers.

With mouth, it's three words: quality, quantity and frequency.

There's trash and good foods in all categories. Concentrate on the good ones. As far as quantity, even if it's healthy food, there's brown rice and there's Mount Brown Rice. With frequency, men and women are being encouraged to eat every three or four hours.

With muscle, you want to burn 300 to 400 calories aerobically every day. You have to do some form of strength training twice a week. As you get older, your muscles melt. Women over 40 who are sedentary drop muscle mass at two times the rate men do.

How many of your clients buy into the notion that a decline in fitness is beyond their control, that it's part of the aging process?

Fewer and fewer people are copping to the excuse, "I'm older, I should look bad."

What I keep hearing is, "Peeke, I'm so stressed. There's no time to work out."

I tell everybody that stress is a disease of time efficiency and every person on the planet feels it. Men are more apt to turn to alcohol. A woman will come home and say, "Where's the Oreos?" It's the chew-and-stew syndrome.

You write that it "drives me absolutely crazy" to go into a gym and see women tiptoeing through a workout. Why the lack of intensity?

It's a generational thing. The young ones in their 20s and teens, they're just knocking it out. In the 30s, it's a mixed bag. In the 40s, 50s and beyond, they're a little timid about pushing the envelope. It's not ladylike to do that.

You're a big proponent of meditation and relaxation techniques. Should that be a part of everyone's fitness regimen?

All through the day, just as you integrate fitness activities, I also want people to integrate moments of mental fitness.

I was stuck on the airport tarmac in New York recently. I plugged in my iPod. I have some nice meditation music. I took that as a golden opportunity to chill.

Here's the thing people forget: The body and mind are like on a hike together. It's a journey that lasts for life. Sometimes you simply have to get off the road and rest. Mini-meditations work like a charm.

What's your own fitness routine?

I will get in cardio workouts no less than five times a week. Right now, I'm preparing to run the Atlanta Peachtree 10K with three couples for NBC Dateline. I'm looking to run my third marathon in the fall.

I love to mountain bike. I've been lifting for more than 25 years. I was there before it was cool. I do it two times a week at intensity, a third if I have the time.

You note in the book that a pound of muscle burns 30 to 50 calories a day just functioning, whereas a pound of fat burns only 3 calories. Does being out of shape have an accelerating effect? At what point does the body-fat composition become difficult to reverse?

The bottom line is it's never too late for anybody, even if your body fat is 50 percent, which I see a lot these days. At any percent body fat, you can still remove it.

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