When asked about her old exercise habits, Jan is brutally honest. “I got virtually no exercise,” she admits. “We’d take a hike sometimes on weekends, or I might do a tiny bit of swimming.” David played the occasional hockey or basketball game, but he was hampered by how hard it was just to move. “I couldn’t even walk upstairs without huffing and puffing,” he remembers. “After all, I was carrying along 70, 80 extra pounds everywhere I went.”
As sedentary as they were, the Blittersdorfs were still ahead of the 26 percent of American adults who report getting no physical activity in their leisure time, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And no wonder, when getting through the day rarely takes more than getting into a car or sitting in front of a computer screen. “Society just isn’t set up for us to be active,” says Harvey-Berino. “Our participants tell us it’s the biggest obstacle they have to overcome.”
And yet, successful weight loss is practically impossible without an exercise commitment, according to the National Weight Control Registry—a database of more than 5,000 people who have lost a minimum of 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least a year. While participants report using any number of different methods to lose the pounds, one common thread unites virtually all of them: they engage in regular physical activity.
Harvey-Berino emphasizes incorporating so-called “programmed” activity—deliberately making room in a daily schedule for exercise, usually walking. “That’s the only way it becomes a habit,” she explains. Doing it at a regular time each day makes it easier to remember and plan around, and tracking daily activity in the diet diaries helps establish and reinforce that routine.
Taking it one step at a time, the Blittersdorfs began with longer and longer daily walks and bike rides. They also reacquainted themselves with the stair machines and fitness bikes in the NRG Systems fitness room to get them through the long Vermont winter.
And they started to see results, slowly and surely. “I lost about 2 1⁄2 pounds each week,” David remembers—so he met his 20-pound goal within two months, and kept going. “By the time we completed the six months of classes, I was down to about 185 pounds.” He’d lost 65 pounds.
Jan had to keep revising her expectations. “I was down to my goal, about 180 pounds, by the end of November, so I decided that in my wildest dreams, I’d like to get down to 165.” When she made that goal a few weeks shy of the six-month mark, “I didn’t want to stop.” She continued to lose 20 more pounds within the next few months.
As the pounds came off, more energy and enthusiasm for exercise moved in. Today, the Blittersdorfs aim for a 45-minute walk two or three times a week, with biking, kayaking or swimming on the weekends.
As with the food they eat, both are ever cognizant of the calories they’re expending—and by now, the calculations are instinctive. One of their favorite bike rides is around a lake near their vacation home in northern Vermont. “It’s an 11-mile loop,” notes David. “We know we use up about 50 calories a mile, so that’s 550 calories.” Likewise, they try to sneak in activity wherever they can, whether it’s taking the stairs instead of escalators, using a push lawnmower rather than a sit-down type—or, in David’s case, shingling his own roof last summer instead of hiring someone else to do it. “I’m trying to be the Energizer bunny,” he explains. “Just moving a lot more in everything I do.”