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When fitness guru Maria Guerra designed her gym, she of course plotted space for all the usual stuff, like free weights, exercise machines and classes.
Guerra also made room for something she’d never seen in any gym.
She calls it a “transformation station” and it’s essentially a heart-health resource center. There are tools to measure blood pressure and body mass index, plus charts and brochures to help make sense of those readings. The information is in English and Spanish, and it’s free to everyone, client or not.
The station also includes a “challenge wall.” This is where people who are ready to improve their fitness post before and after photos; challengers get to update their “after” image each month.
“Why work out and have pretty muscles if the most important muscle in your body isn’t fit?” Maria said. “Being heart-healthy is not a trend, not doing what’s stylish or cool. It’s doing what’s important to survival and lasting longer on Earth.”
Heart Health Is a Year-Round Pursuit
As American Heart Month comes to an end, it’s important to note that being heart-healthy is a year-round pursuit.
That’s pretty much Maria’s mission statement.
Her primary goal for anyone who walks into Hard Core Fitness Studio in Lake Forest, California, is improving health. She considers losing weight and gaining muscle as simply part of that process.
“My biggest reward is when I get stories not of how much weight they’ve lost, but when they come in with a doctor’s report saying their cholesterol is down, blood pressure is down, and they’ve been taken off all these medications,” she said. “They are SO proud – they are beaming! That’s THE BEST. They’re healthy!!”
The all-caps and exclamation points offer a sense of Maria’s energy and passion. Her schedule is further proof.
In addition to running the studio and leading classes, she hosts a podcast (“What The Fitness”) and is a motivational speaker. She especially enjoys delivering her message in Spanish because of the prevalence of heart problems among Hispanics and Latinos. Spanish speakers may recognize her as a trainer on “Dale Con Ganas,” the Spanish-language version of “The Biggest Loser.”
Maria also volunteers with the American Heart Association. Funny thing is, she set up her transformation station and handed out AHA materials long before becoming involved with the organization.
The Transformation Station
Once she came up with the resource center, she wondered why it wasn’t as common in gym as treadmills are.
The station’s equipment – two blood pressure machines, a scale, tape measures and other tools for calculating BMI – is a relatively minor expense, especially compared to the value they provide.
Maria also designed a six-week workout program called BURN. Users track their progress through a “passport.” This includes weekly visits to the transformation station for BP and BMI checks.
“It’s so easy to do, but it’s also easy to let it fall into a bottomless pit of a to-do list,” she said, laughing. “That’s why I make them take two minutes and measure their waist and check their blood pressure. There’s no, `I’m too busy.’ … I want clients for the rest of their lives, not just a six-week session.”
Maria finds that most advice she gives about health and wellness covers the basics: Exercise more and watch what you eat. She also tells people that both are easier than they think.
If the AHA recommendation of working out 150 minutes per week is too daunting, she suggests breaking it down. The common way is viewing it as 30 minutes a day, five days a week. She takes it a step further: Do 10 minutes when you wake up, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes before bed.
As for what exercise should to do during those 10 minutes, her advice is “the one you’ll actually do.”
“Find something you like,” she said. “You can turn anything into exercise. Just do it with passion.”
She’s also learned that people don’t necessarily understand what it means to “watch what you eat.”
“I just sat with someone who checks her blood pressure before every class she takes and she’s frustrated because it hasn’t gone down,” Maria said. “I said, `Watch what you eat, reduce salt, and …’ and she jumped in and said, `Really?!’ I threw the salt thing in real casual, but she didn’t know that could be a problem. Uh, yeah! I gave her a handout about it in Spanish.”
Keep Your Eye on ‘the Real Prize’
Whenever Maria speaks about heart health, she gets a feel for how knowledgeable the crowd is based on their reaction to a few stats she shares, such as heart disease being the No. 1 killer of Americans, and that 80 percent of heart disease can be avoided.
It just takes a little knowledge and commitment. For this, she tells people to “put their eye on the real prize.”
Fitting into a smaller size for a wedding or other special event might get you motivated now. But she wants you to shift the finish line, to make it something like celebrating your 90th birthday.
“Don’t wait to do something to improve your heart health,” she said. “Do it now.”
Editor’s note: This story was published with permission from the American Heart Association in honor of American Heart Month in February 2018.