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Lisa Plendl

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Slimming Down Without the Fitness Club Membership: ¡Si´ Se Puede!

07/08/2015 12:29PM | 13301 views

Getting slim without the gym? It’s possible by making a few sustainable lifestyle changes, says City of Hope’s Mayra Serrano.

Serrano’s day job is teaching community members how to eat better, move and get fit to improve health as part of the medical research center’s Eat Move Live outreach. While teaching others, Serrano shed about 40 pounds herself over about four years using the techniques she shares with a largely Hispanic population.

“It’s especially important for Latinos to get fit and moving because we have one of highest rates of obesity,” she says, noting that one in two Hispanic children will develop diabetes in their lifetimes. “This is entirely preventable through lifestyle changes.” Likewise, two-thirds of cancers can be prevented with lifestyle and diet changes.

But getting trimmer doesn’t require shelling out for a pricey gym membership, or losing valuable family time at home, she says. It’s about making simple, sustainable changes that add up over time.

Serrano shares a few quick tips for home and work:


Dance it Off – Care to tango, Salsa or Zumba? Getting those dancing shoes on can help you stay fit, Serrano says. If classic or popular moves aren’t your style, Simply “turn on the radio and move,” she says. It’s easy and fun – no specific steps are required. Best of all, the kids love joining in. When the music is playing, “Everyone’s happy and smiling, and it’s good quality time with the family,” she says. 

Get Your Game On – Remember all those diversions you loved as a child and had long forgotten? Get back to it, Serrano urges. Play tag. Grab a Hula-Hoop. Toss a ball. Swing a bat. Swim. Again, those activities can be a great workout that brings youngsters, adults, maybe even grandparents, all together. Even if you don’t have a yard, “Some of these you can do in your living room,” Serrano reminds.

Pump Iron During the Commercials – Watching your favorite TV program is a fun diversion – but also very sedentary. To help couch potatoes burn more calories, Serrano encourages people to grab a couple of 16-ounce water bottles or cans of corn – and pump a few tricep and bicep extensions during commercials. Serrano recommends 12 to 15 repetitions per set, and as many sets as you can complete during the breaks. Grab the bottles and thrust them straight up and down, or hold your “weights” palms up at your mid-section, then lift them to your shoulders. If you have arthritis, do the exercises without the cans and bottles. You can easily find other variations that can help tone your arms.

 “You don’t need to buy weights.” You can also extend your legs in repetitions while kicking back on a couch or chair for an added boost, Serrano says.

Burn Calories with that Broom – Even everyday chores can help you take more steps and burn more calories, Serrano says. “Something as simple as cleaning your windows can be a workout,” she says. While going up and down when you’re doing the windows, make the motion into proper squats,” she says. Serrano also walks in place while folding her laundry, doing dishes, and brushing her teeth. Incorporate kids into the mix, she says, by making chores into a competitive game. “If you want them to put away their toys, for example, put them in another room, so kids need to walk further.”

Channel Surf for Fitness – Looking for a fitness class? Look no further than your cable television provider, or smart phone, Serrano says. Most people aren’t aware that cable providers typically offer free workout programs. Find them by searching the “on-demand” channels, where you may discover aerobics, yoga, dancing, weights – even salsa or other offerings. Likewise, plenty of free or inexpensive smart phones apps let you access running, weightlifting, Pilates and other fitness offerings.

Transform Video Time Into Active Time – Do your children play video games on Xbox and Wii? Maybe you should join them, Serrano says. Choose games that require everyone to get up and move, rather than hang out on the couch, she says. Become a master Wii bowler or baseball player by going through the actual motion of hurling a bowling ball or swinging a bat, for example, Serrano encourages. “Some of these games can be a good workout,” she says. “And instead of everyone just sitting there, this helps make sure everyone is active.”


Put Peddle to Metal – Idling at work all day? Serrano boosts her own personal fitness results by stashing a portable elliptical trainer under her desk. It’s similar to a folding exercise peddler that allows users to peddle while chatting on the phone, or crunching numbers on the computer. The less-expensive models can be purchased for as little as $30.

Stand and Sit at Attention – Standing burns more calories than sitting, Serrano notes. So using a “standing” desk at work, even some of the time, can help you stay fit. An added boost: Studies show that working more vertically can help keep users alert and engaged as the day wears on. For people with good posture, replacing a desk chair with a large “stability ball” typically seen at the gym, can be another great way to build core muscles. “By sitting on the ball with perfect posture, you are constantly engaging your core muscles,” – and burning calories, Serrano says.

Walk the Talk – Serrano clocks extra miles by taking the occasional walking meeting with a colleague, rather than dialoging in a conference room or by phone. It’s great if you work on a campus setting, such as City of Hope, near Los Angeles, as Serrano does. But even a greenbelt area or a stroll around the block could potentially suffice if your colleagues are also looking to burn more calories on the job. Serrano also habitually treks to meetings in other buildings in her complex on foot. “Unless it’s pouring rain, I prefer to walk.”

Don’t Forget the Breaks – Remember to get up and move during the day. Taking short breaks on the job shouldn’t be something you skip. “Our attention span is about 90 minutes,” Serrano notes. “A quick five- to 10-minute walk can rejuvenate you and get you back into focus.” And it can help you stay active, while getting centered and de-stressed, she notes, not to mention getting more steps in and shedding additional calories.

Ultimately, by making some of these small, simple changes now, people can see a huge impact over the long run, as she did, Serrano says. It’s all about incorporating sustainable changes you can stick to easily, she says.


You may or may not see huge improvements immediately, Serrano says. “But by making more sustainable lifestyle changes, you can see changes little by little. And that’s okay.” 

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