Fired up about fitness

Council Member Betsy Hodges gets serious about Twin Cities Get Fit Challenge

Council Member Betsy Hodges doesn’t usually celebrate Feb. 14 for the candy kisses or the
flowers.

To anybody else, it’s Valentine’s Day. But to her, it’s her "I quit smoking" day. On Feb. 14, 1989, she smoked her last cigarette while on the phone with her best friend.

"I was 19, and I wasn’t dating anybody. And Valentine’s Day I found a depressing thing," she said. "I said, ‘I’m going to quit smoking on Valentine’s Day because then for the rest of my life I will have something to celebrate on Valentine’s Day.’"

It was the first step of a long, challenging journey to good health — one she’s still on today.   

This winter, she is taking her passion for good health to a new extreme. She is trying 12 new physical activities and writing about the experience. She’s doing it for two reasons — she tends to hibernate during the winter, and she’s participating in Get Fit Twin Cities, a three-month program focused on helping people to develop healthier habits.

Hodges has worked at living healthier for nearly two decades.  

On a personal blog she launched in December, she describes her teenage self as "obese, out of shape, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and drinking a lot." But that changed during her early 20s. She was "low-grade miserable" and realized she could either continue living that way or quit smoking and drinking and start eating healthier and exercising. She chose the latter.

Around 80 pounds lighter and almost 20 years later, she considers herself healthy. She works with a personal fitness trainer about six times a month. She wakes long before most of us have to hit the snooze button so she can fit in an hour or so at the gym before she starts a day packed with meetings. Three seasons out of the year, she is an avid runner. This fall, she set a PR (that’s lingo in the running world for personal record) during the Medtronic Twin Cities 10-Mile, followed by an accomplishment this November seven years in the making: she ran 10 miles in under 100 minutes.

"Working out is a cornerstone of my stress-management plan. I do it to stay healthy and maintain weight, sure. But mostly I do it to stay happy and on a more even keel in my daily life," she wrote on her blog.

The blog helps her to keep track of activities that she can call on during the lull of future winters. She figures that Minneapolitans might be able to relate to and learn from the embarrassing experiences she writes about. And there’s no better way to hold yourself accountable then laying it all out in the public domain.

As the Get Fit point person on the City Council, there’s also a responsibility to get the word out about the program. Get Fit is a program of Steps to a Healthier Minneapolis and Steps to a Healthier St. Paul, which focuses on preventing diabetes, obesity and asthma. It kicked off Jan. 16 and runs through April 24. Groups of two to 10 people can form a Get Fit group by registering as a single team or a group team, such as an organization that wants to sign up multiple teams. Then, individuals or groups’ captains log their weekly minutes of physical activity.

Hodges is the captain of the City Council’s Get Fit team. While she won’t be found hunting down her teammates in the cubicle maze that is the Council office, she will encourage them to exercise and coordinate group events like spending the lunch hour walking the skyway system, she said.

All the while, she will be sticking to her own regimen. She made a list of activities this fall that she would consider trying based on convenience, her interest level and the degree of difficulty. She plans on doing each twice because the first time is spent figuring out equipment and learning how much effort to exert. Also, she said she often feels like a "jackass" for the first 15 minutes of doing any new activity.

She has tried spinning, or high-intensity indoor stationary cycling, which she said is a great cross-training exercise for runners. She also said she secretly likes yoga and has attended four fitness yoga classes. For years, she avoided it because she said she finds sitting still and meditating difficult. She has some "hesitation when I’m told to, you know, lead with my heart center," she said. "For me, that’s a challenge."

Throughout her experiment, she has had a trainer whom she hired almost two years ago. She hired one because she had the goal of doing three pull-ups; she could only do one. Left to her own devices, she said, she would not achieve her goal. "I didn’t think it would be a long-term thing, but I ended up finding it to be so useful that I’ve continued it over time," she said.

As Hodges starts to get the word out about Get Fit and her own challenges, she hopes people will know that she didn’t achieve good health overnight.

"The fear that I have is that people will look at where I am now, and they will think that ‘oh, I can’t do that. How can she run 10 miles? I can’t even, you know, walk down the block.’ And I swear that’s where I started," she said. "One of the things that I really figured out to do was start exactly where I was at. And where I was at when I started was I could do five minutes on the treadmill completely flat at three miles an hour. That’s where I started. And from there, I lost 80 pounds and can run 10 miles."

To learn more about Betsy and her winter challenge, go to www.betsysgetfitchallenge.blogspot.com. To learn more about Get Fit Twin Cities, go to www.getfittwincities.org.

Brady Gervais can be reached at bgervais@mnpubs.com or 436-4373.