The first ladies of fitness: think you’re too busy to exercise? Here, six White House staffers share inspiring advice and stick-with-it tips – Special Report
If anyone has an excuse not to work out, it’s busy women. Some of the busiest women, however, feel fitting in exercise is key to making the many pieces of a complex life fit best. That’s the perspective of the six White House women profiled here. And while a fitness-friendly work environment supported by the president may have been the impetus to get several of these ladies started, once they got into the exercise groove, they all found they couldn’t live without it.
Mary Matalin, counselor to the vice president, says she loves that so many of her colleagues are making their fitness a priority. It’s been a mini-liberation; it’s not ‘Can you take the time?’ but ‘You can make the time,’ ” she says. Nicolle Devenish, director of media affairs, agrees and says, “It’s fascinating to work where the boss expects you to exercise every day; it’s extraordinary when it’s the president.” Regardless of where you work and the value placed on fitness, these women will tell you that the time they put in is well worth it, personally and professionally. “We work better together and we work hard,” says Margaret Spellings, director, Office of Domestic Policy. “Being fit makes me feel better and it makes me a better wife, worker and mom.”
Now, Shape wants you to catch the get-fit fever and reap its rewards. Read on for these women’s inspiring strategies, including what motivates them to exercise and how you can get hooked on fitness for good.
Counselor to the Vice President
Major motivator To Matalin, fitness is a joy familiar since childhood. To this day, her dad inspires her with his personal love for it. (“He’s 73, has multiple myeloma and still goes to the gym,” she says.)
Workout schedule Total-body strength training, stretching and cardio three days during the workweek. Also runs or bikes with her husband (high-profile Democratic strategist James Carville) and works out with their kids, 4 and 7, who have their own exercise suits and 1-pound pink dumbbells.
Why she works out “Exercise is the only form of stress management I have,” says Matalin. “It improves my endurance and energy level. At the end of 12- and 13-hour days, I can think clearly and I sleep better.”
Beyond exercise “My husband and I are serious foodies,” says Matalin. “We always say ‘We won’t eat a bad meal.’ We have our own farm, with grass-fed cattle, an organic garden and chickens, and fruit orchards that produce peaches, pears and cherries. I don’t use fake butter, but the real thing. I don’t count calories, but have a sense of the right mix of carbs, protein and fat for my body.”
* Stick-with-it tips
1. “Most women tend to exercise because of vanity. Forget about that. Put the scale away.”
2. “As my husband says, ‘Start slow and taper off,'” says Matalin. (Don’t literally taper off, just don’t progress too quickly.) “You’ll be surprised how a 10-minute walk will lead to a 20-minute walk.”
3. Eat every three hours or so. It keeps your energy stable. When you deprive yourself, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.
Director of Media Affairs
Major motivator “Working out is the one non-negotiable part of self-care that I consistently schedule,” says Devenish. “All of us need an anchor, and my anchor is my workout.” Workout schedule Exercises three days a week during her lunch hour, plus weight training, running and elliptical training on weekends.
Why she works out “Knowing that the president has the discipline to schedule time to work out makes it easier for me to do the same, and so does the way I feel if I don’t work out,” says Devenish. “I’m pretty even-keeled because of exercise. And at the end of the day, when I put my head on my pillow, I know that I have done something good for myself.”
Beyond exercise “I realize that working out doesn’t stand alone; you need to take care of yourself in other ways,” says Devenish. “You feel better when you get the sleep you need and eat enough fruits and vegetables.”
* Stick-with-it tips
1. Make taking care of yourself a priority — whether it’s getting a haircut or a massage or working out.
2. Schedule your exercise and be disciplined about it. Keeping an appointment with yourself is just as important as keeping an appointment with the boss.
3. Work out with friends.
4. Make fitness convenient. Devenish suggests investing in a gym-quality machine for home if that’s where you prefer to work out.
Director, Office of Domestic Policy
Major motivator “Exercise pays big dividends,” says Spellings. “You give one hour to working out and you get two-and-a-half more hours of productivity. Everybody can and should do this. I love it. It’s a habit.”
Workout schedule Weight training three times during the workweek, plus a combination of weight training and Spinning (which she says is her favorite) on Saturdays and another workout on Sundays.
Why she works out Spellings notes that exercising relieves stress and helps her sleep well. “My cholesterol is down and other indicators, like blood pressure, are improved,” she adds. “The buddy system helps too. I stay motivated because it’s in our culture here.”
Beyond exercise “Eating right is challenging for me, so I sympathize with those for whom it’s not easy,” says Spellings. “I’m working on healthier food choices; I’ve joined Weight Watchers here at work and follow that type of model.” She says that the spiritual/stress-management arena is her next area of focus.
* Stick-with-it tips
1. Make yourself a priority.
2. Schedule regular workouts. Set aside a time that is sacred and non-negotiable for working out; don’t let excuses or other people keep you from sticking to it. “If the president can find the time to work out, we sure can,” notes Spellings.
3. Work out with friends; Spellings says it’s great female-bonding time.
Special Assistant to the Director, Office of Global Communications
Major motivator Since joining Weight Watchers in August 2001, Nipper is 85 pounds lighter and says her biggest motivator for being fit is “thinking about where I was and where I’ve been; I don’t want to go back there.” She completed the President’s Fitness Challenge (in which the president led runners in a three-mile run and the first lady led walkers in a 1.5-mile walk) last summer, which she counts as her best fitness moment.
Workout schedule 30 minutes of free weights three times a week and 60 minutes of cardio four times a week (alternating between the stair climber, treadmill, elliptical trainer and running outdoors).
Why she works out Besides the weight-loss benefits, Nipper has reduced her risk for diabetes and heart disease, revved up her stamina and energy, and more. “It’s helped me to relax and to sleep better, reduced my anxiety, and improved my confidence and self-esteem, as well as my quality of life,” she says.
Beyond exercise Nipper continues to follow the Weight Watchers program, which includes a sensible diet. “I want to meet my weight goal (losing 100 pounds), but the actual number isn’t the most important thing,” she says. “I want to get to the point where I can run a 10-mile race.”
* Stick-with-it tips
1. Make the time now to exercise; chances are, you’re never going to have the “extra” time you imagine. “If the man who runs the free world has time to run 30 minutes a day, so does everyone else,” says Nipper.
2. Add variety. Always try something new; your next new exercise could wind up being your favorite.
3. Set appropriate goals to keep exercise challenging.
4. Keep an exercise and food diary so you can determine what has and has not worked.
5. Reward yourself. When Nipper lost 75 pounds, she bought herself a pair of new running shoes.
Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady
Major motivator “I’m happy when I attain a goal that I’ve set of walking faster or at a higher incline,” says Ball. “Reaching goals makes me feel very proud of myself. I have a lighter step those mornings that I exercise.”
Workout schedule Speed walking on a treadmill five days a week for 30 minutes. She is trying to add weight training to her regimen.
Why she works out “I’m clearer-headed. I feel healthy. I know I’m doing the right thing. I look and feel better,” says Ball.
Beyond exercise A Weight Watchers veteran of six years, Ball has lost 25 pounds on the program. “It’s great because it teaches you to eat healthy,” says Ball. “Exercise alone doesn’t make you lose weight. You need both. What’s helped me most is writing down what I eat throughout the day. Eating the right foods is a priority.”
* Stick-with-it tips
1. Keep a daily food and exercise log.
2. Bring fruit to work on Monday for the whole week so you snack on that instead of something less healthy.
3. Drink plenty of water. “Often when I think I’m hungry, I’m really thirsty,” says Ball.
Press Secretary to the Vice President
Major motivator “When I get into a rhythm (a string of consistent workouts), I find it really motivating,” says Millerwise.
Workout schedule Weight training once or twice a week, plus 35 minutes of cardio (stair climber, elliptical trainer or jogging on the treadmill) three days a week.
Why she works out “I feel better about myself,” says Millerwise. “My face, hair and skin look better. I feel more toned. Meeting with a trainer or workout buddies really helps too.”
Beyond exercise “Working out and healthy eating go hand in hand: When I exercise, I eat better. My trainer encourages me to make small changes, like eating a couple more fruits a day and cutting back on wine, or having one cup of caffeinated coffee instead of two.”
* Stick-with-it tips
1. Work out with colleagues whose company you enjoy.
2. Bring a healthy lunch with you to work.
3. Find an enticing place for your workouts. Millerwise joined a beautiful gym close to her home, which she says is a tremendous exercise motivator for her.
4. Focus on small lifestyle changes, like getting in a fast-paced 20-minute walk to work or taking the stairs instead of always riding the elevator.
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