Reality television has given us a behind-the-scenes view of the American struggle for fitness. Personal trainers push and push while sweating men and women strive for a healthier life. Is it possible, however, that couples that exercise together know the secret to a healthy life? Couples fitness!
Chattanooga Couples Sharing Active Lifestyles for Health and Happiness
By Barbara Bowen
Motivation is one of the reasons couples fitness works. Experts agree that when there is another person involved people are more likely to get off the couch. In fact, according to EatBetter.com, men are more than twice as likely to exercise regularly if their wives do.
Craig Tidwell, M.D., of Associates in Obstetrics and Gynecology with Hamilton Medical Center says, “I definitely see the benefits.” He notes that there are numerous advantages of couples fitness, not the least of which is motivation and encouragement, not wanting to let the other person down. Dr. Tidwell adds that staying fit leads to better sleep for both people, and getting a good night’s sleep is connected to a decrease in cancer risks. Also, “The family spends more time together, and the emotional and mental benefits of exercise are connected to the physical benefits. When people are happy, they tend to eat better, and when both people are eating well, the health of the family improves.”
In the following, local couples weigh in on the physical and emotional benefits of sharing an active lifestyle. They share their stories of getting connected and staying connected through fitness.
Dynamic Dancing Duo
Vascular surgeon Chris LeSar, M.D., at University Surgical Associates, and his wife Tracie started dancing after many years of marriage and four children, ranging from seven to fourteen years old.
“We met in his first year of residency, and from the beginning he was always promising to take me dancing,” Tracie says. “Between building a medical practice and raising the kids, we were constantly pulled in different directions.”
“Finally in early 2008 she gave me an ultimatum: Dance class or marriage counseling,” Chris laughs. Today the marriage is stronger than ever, and Wednesday is date night. A quiet dinner alone is followed by dance lessons at Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Beginning with basic ballroom dancing – waltz, fox trot, cha-cha, tango, rumba, and swing – they have worked their way up to the competitive level.
“I thought being a vascular surgeon was harrowing at times,” Chris says, “but my scariest moment was getting on stage to perform a dance routine.” Together they work as a team reading body signals, matching precise isometric movements, performing rhythmic dance patterns, and maintaining firm postures that build core strength.
“It’s an athletic partnership with a shared physical and mental connection,” Tracie says. “You have to anticipate the next move while you are constantly flexing your arm and legs.”
“Men have to be three moves ahead all the time, like in a chess game,” Chris describes. “It’s not just about your feet but what you do with your upper body and arms that gives your partner the direction to follow.”
Dancing has become a real passion for them while providing a physically demanding activity that helps them feel connected. “When you are a stay-at-home mom often the husbands are leading different lives,” Tracie says. “Over time you might forget who you started with. Dancing is so much fun – it sparks the relationship, helping you remember who you were when you first met.”
Art Snow started dating Kristy in 2000 when he was playing golf nearly every day, but she didn’t play at all.
“I told her, half seriously, ‘If you want to see very much of me you ought to learn how to play golf,’” Art says. “She asked, ‘Would you teach me?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ The only thing worse than a guy teaching his wife or girlfriend how to play golf, is teaching his wife and girlfriend how to play golf.”
Kristy started taking lessons while practicing at the driving range and on the course. Eventually they started playing together, and four years later she was hooked on golf and on Art. “We got married in Vegas at the Little White Wedding Chapel at ten in the morning, had brunch and teed off at one o’clock,” Kristy remembers.
Art is proud that Kristy went from apprentice to master and feels lucky to have found someone who shares his avid enthusiasm for golf. They play 36 holes together every weekend and play during the week with other groups. They have a history of walking the course carrying their clubs, and many of their friendships have developed on the course.
“I met one of my best friends through golf,” Kristy says. “Our social life is built around golf; even our vacations are planned around it.”
Art accepted a position at the Watts Bar Nuclear Station in 2009. When he came to Chattanooga for the job interview, Kristy was online researching golf courses. Moving from Michigan means they can play golf almost year-round as members of the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. Their competitive spirit, zest for the game, healthy lifestyle, and love for each other are reinforced each day they spend playing golf in the fresh air and sunshine.
Bicycles and Wedding Bells
Ashley Henderson and his new wife Debbie had been friends for many years before they discovered a shared interest in bike riding. In 2008 at a chance meeting, the traditional “What’s new with you?” revealed they had each recently purchased new bicycles. They agreed to meet for a ride, and the relationship blossomed as the rides became regular rendezvous.
“Imagine having several hours together to talk with no distractions,” Debbie says. “Our eyes are on the road, but we have each other’s ear. Every ride is like a little date.”
“One of our favorite places is Chickamauga Battlefield early in the morning, because we can ride side-by-side,” Ashley explains. “We have seen amazing sites like a doe with a newborn fawn running across a field at sunrise.”
Most Saturdays the newlyweds ride to meet Ashley’s dad for breakfast at a little restaurant where they first met the dozen or so friends that have become their riding group. Every weekend they spend several hours covering 50 to 60 miles together.
Ashley also rides to work where he is a photojournalist at News Channel 12, and this summer he reached a record of 1,065 miles on a bike. Riding together has encouraged them to set distance goals including a recently completed 100-mile ride.
“Without Ashley’s support I would never have gone 50 miles at one time, much less a hundred,” Debbie says, “and we have done that three times now.” Ashley adds, “Riding bikes is good for our relationship, good for our health, and good for the environment.”
Married in May of this year, Debbie and Ashley’s reception was decorated like a park with lots of plants and several bicycles around the room, as well as a bicycle topper on the wedding cake. When they made their big exit they rode away on a bicycle built for two, of course.
Walking at Sunset
Joe Decosimo was a business major at University of Georgia when he met Rachel, an art student. “Walking together was a big deal at Georgia because most students didn’t have cars,” Rachel remembers. “If you wanted to go somewhere, you walked.”
Joe reflects, “It was a huge campus. Every night we would meet at the library, and then I would walk her up the big hill to her dorm. Of course we would stop along the way, so it wasn’t all about studying.”
Walking was part of their courtship ritual, and after many years together they are still walking with occasional stops along the way. Joe is 85, and Rachel is 83. They walk a mile and a half with their golden retriever several days a week on the nearby golf course after the golfers are gone. “I find it relaxing to be with Rachel, reminiscing about our lives and grateful at our age we can still walk and talk,” Joe says.
Joe believes walking helps with a good night’s sleep, which is essential to long-term health. “I cannot imagine just sitting and watching TV when you could be outside enjoying the fresh air and nature.” “Except when the Braves are winning,” Rachel adds with a smile.
“As an artist I am feasting my eyes on the changing sky, the lush trees, the soft green grass, and I’m very aware that this is God’s world with a great sense of gratitude that we are in it,” Rachel says.
“Any couple who walks together will find it is one of the best ways to communicate because you are away from everything,” Rachel continues. “It’s just you two and the path at your feet, the birds in the trees and the sun going down. Joe will tell you we’ve been all over the world and there is nothing better than sunset on Signal Mountain.”
Love – Deuce – Advantage
Serena Lau, anesthesiologist, and John Buzinkai, polymer chemist, are sharing a newfound love on the tennis court. Married for nine years, they first played together on their honeymoon, but it wasn’t until recently that tennis became a regular activity in their lives when Serena started taking lessons.
“I played some in high school,” John says, “but when Serena started playing, it got me back into the game.” “He figured he better start playing again before I got better than him,” Serena teases. “But truthfully I am still in the learning curve.”
Playing several days a week at Manker Patten Tennis Club includes practicing together, individual lessons, tennis clinics, mixed doubles and separate leagues. John lost 10 pounds without even trying just by taking up tennis again. Serena describes the game as anaerobic exercise, which increases lung capacity but requires quick bursts of energy, unlike the steady pace of running or cycling.
“I was fit before but not fit for tennis,” Serena explains. “Most people start playing tennis to stay in shape, but it’s helpful to get in shape to play tennis.”
“Serena has learned a lot in the past two years. I’m really proud of her,” John says. “She has improved greatly. For me it’s nice to be back on the court and have a partner with a sympathetic ear, someone who understands the challenges of the game.”
Sometimes it is tough for couples to play together, especially with different levels of skill. Tennis players call this “mixed troubles” instead of mixed doubles. John remembers the early days when Serena was a novice, but she worked hard, and it wasn’t long before they could play together. “It couldn’t have been fun for him in the beginning,” Serena recalls, “but John has been so supportive. Recently I played on a women’s tennis team that won the state championship, and he was at every match.”
Most of John’s family is active in tennis, and at a recent family reunion there were ten of them on the courts. Someday John and Serena hope to teach their pre-school son to play. Tennis has been a physical, social, and emotional activity, providing a balance to their professional and personal relationships. For them, tennis truly is their sport for a lifetime.
Barbara Bowen is a Chattanooga resident with a mass communications degree from Middle Tennessee State University. She serves on the PTSA board for Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and is a member of the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute. Barbara and her husband have four children and four grandchildren.