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MJ is one of many clients that trainer and nutritionist Jim White has helped reach his fitness goals. MJ is one of many clients that trainer and nutritionist Jim White has helped reach his fitness goals. Photo courtesy Jim White
2022 Jun

Fitness at Any Age

Here’s why it’s never too late to become fitter and healthier

Jim White was a weak, skinny teenager, 5’11” and 130 pounds in the ninth grade. “I was teased and bullied, and I remember the girls called me ‘bird chest’ when I was younger,” he said.

“Some of the negative comments turned into the best situations because I proved to others, but mostly to myself, that I wanted to build up strength.”

Luckily, ninth-grader Jim had two brothers who were athletic. Like good siblings, they helped him transform his physique. Over three years, he increased his food intake, eating lean proteins, good carbs, and healthy fats. He worked out five days a week, doing cardio and strength training and eventually built up 60 additional pounds of toned muscle. It was a life-changing time for Jim. He wanted to do for others what mentors had helped him accomplish. For more than 20 years, Jim has coached others to better health through his Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

While fad diets and trendy workouts come and go, Jim and other local personal trainers say realistic lifestyle changes can help you stick with your goals, no matter what age you are and what your body needs to achieve. As the saying goes: “It’s never too late.”

Fitness Benefits Function, says Trainer Erika Smith

Helping Seniors at Chesapeake’s Lifestyle Fitness Center
Trainer Erika Smith
Erika Smith, a fitness trainer with Chesapeake Regional’s Lifestyle Fitness Center, runs 20 miles weekly. Photo courtesy Erika Smith

While Jim was the skinny teen, Erika Smith was the exact opposite—an overweight middle-school student cut from the basketball team.

“That ignited a fire inside me,” said Erika, now 41. She ran and rollerbladed in the neighborhood, cut out chips, fast food, and sugar-filled drinks and lost 25 pounds. Eventually, she made the basketball team, earned all-district honors, and went on to play at Lynchburg College, where she graduated with a science degree in health promotion.

Now a Silver Sneakers certified group fitness instructor, Erika works at the Lifestyle Fitness Center, a Chesapeake Regional Healthcare medically-based gym in Chesapeake. “We focus more on functional fitness training,” she explained.

“For instance, I get excited about someone being able to get up from a chair or someone increasing their range-of-motion to reach something out of a cabinet – not how much a person can bench press or squat,” Erika said.

Passing her own 40-year birthday has changed Erika’s perspective on life, especially when it comes to the role of fitness. Erika believes you do what is best to extend your quality of life, such as working on skills like balance and stretching, which set the stage for improving overall strength. For Erika personally, that means running 20 miles a week, preferably on a treadmill because it saves her aging joints.

It’s not easy to take that first step toward better health through exercise, Erika admitted. Her favorite quote for new members is simple and straightforward: “Anything is better than nothing.”

“You have to start with the first step and build from there,” said Erika, who teaches six weekly classes on strength training, balance, and flexibility.

One of her clients with balance issues couldn’t even walk up or down a step. After working to improve her strength, as well as balance, she was finally able to walk up and down her porch steps at home without fear of falling.

“That was a best moment for me,” Erika said.

Erika tells seniors that they are never too old to begin a fitness program. In fact, she has new members who are older than 80 and are now just starting to exercise. They start slow and simple, working on a couple cardio machines for a few weeks, and then gradually adding strength machines to their workouts.

“I would never describe myself as a patient person, but I have all the patience in the world for anyone who is willing to put forth effort to better themselves,” she said. “The older I get, the more passionate I get about encouraging people to move. As the wear and tear on your body increases, so does the pain. It’s an inspiration to see a lot of our members work through that and keep moving. The absolute worst thing you can do is stop moving.”

Try Affordable Group Training, Says Trainer Hannah Hill

Riverside Wellness Center Offers Group & Individual Training
Trainer Hannah Hill
Trainer Hannah Hill works with client Domeka Kelley. Photo courtesy Riverside Wellness and Fitness Center

Everyone thinks a personal trainer is a pricey luxury—and it can be for many pocketbooks. But there are options, such as small group training that can be more affordable, according to trainer Hannah Hill.

“We train people from all walks of life, and we guide you so you put in the work needed for success,” said Hannah, an exercise specialist with Riverside Wellness and Fitness Center in Newport News and Gloucester. “We help you stay accountable.”

Whether you work one-on-one with a personal trainer or in a group setting, each person is individually evaluated and a personal plan and goals are set.

“I make sure I take the time to get to know each client and their abilities,” said Hannah, 25, who graduated with a degree in kinesiology, the scientific study of human body movement, from the University of North Carolina.

Helping people reach and maintain their fitness goals makes Hannah realize she chose the right career path. Like the time a client told her that training sessions put a sense of purpose back in her life. Or the time a group of clients made shirts with her nickname and then gave her a jacket to commemorate the end of their training.

“It made me realize that personal training is way more than personal training,” Hannah said. “Clients soon become like family. I like to give clients the tools and skills they need to continue our sessions on their own. My goal is to transition them from supervised training to doing their own workouts independently.”

Nutrition Meets Fitness at Jim White Fitness

Dieticians on Staff Advice Clients on Best Practices
Personal Trainer and gym owner Jim White
Personal trainer and gym owner Jim White believes good nutrition and fitness training go hand in hand. Photo courtesy Jim White

Nutrition and how it relates to a healthier, stronger body have always been at the forefront of Jim White’s drive to help people achieve their fitness goals. Which is why his two gym locations includes eight dietitians along with 22 trainers, all schooled and certified in their respective fields.

Jim, 43, is also a registered dietitian and an exercise physiologist graduate from the American College of Sports Medicine. His medium-sized gyms offer one-on-one, small group, virtual, and semi-private training, as well as nutritional counseling, which is usually covered by health insurance, according to Jim.

Clients include kids struggling with eating disorders, people who are morbidly obese, men and women trying to build muscle and bone strength, seniors dealing with balance and flexibility issues, moms, and cancer patients—all walks of life.

One of Jim’s most memorable successes was an anorexic sixth-grader who weighed 60 pounds. Once the boy began eating foods like chicken and broccoli and gaining weight, he started strength training. Today, that now-grown boy is a personal trainer.

“Every person who walks through our door has to see a dietitian because you can’t just do fitness alone and achieve what you want,” he said. “We learn everything we can about you and customize what you need because one size does not fit all. We work with people to get to successes but also work with them through relapses and emotional eating.”

Being the people-person he is, Jim makes sure his time is not just spent on gym management needs. Weekly, he’s on the floor coaching 15 hours and giving nutrition advice eight hours. “I love it. I’ve had clients for 20 years,” he said. “We meet people where they are at. No strict diets because we’ve seen what happens: 80 percent of the people gain the weight back. We are lifestyle coaches, helping people learn to live better.”

“This is what I went to school for and what changed my life.”

For more information, visit:

Kathy Van Mullekom

Kathy Van Mullekom is a retired journalist, whose beats included gardening, women’s issues, restaurant trends, and fashion. Formerly a York County resident and master gardener, she now lives in southeastern Virginia Beach, where her leisure hours are spent golfing with husband Ken and exploring parks with her two grandkids, Mattie, 9, and Grady, 7.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/kathyhoganvanmullekom

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