Doctors Feel Good: Physicians stay true to their workouts

Sure, doctors are good at doling out advice to exercise and eat right. But do they take their own medicine? These six doctors do. They have a regular exercise routine, ranging from mountain biking to mountaineering, and are prime examples of the life-altering benefits of getting off the couch and into a fitness routine you like.

Here's a sneak peek into their world and workouts…

It's 4 o'clock in the morning and Dr. Nancy Reye is awake.

She hasn't been called by one of the patients at her Elk Rapids practice. Her young sons and her husband are still fast asleep.

She's up and around early on Tuesday and Thursday mornings so she can get her morning exercise in at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center pool.

"I'm in the master's swim program and we practice from 5 to 6:30 a.m. twice a week," said the 42-year-old Reye. "I grew up in the Detroit area and I've always been a swimmer.

"As doctors, we're always talking to our patients about fitness," she said. "I think we lose credibility with them if we don't practice what we preach."

Reye has been swimming since age five when her mother signed her up for lessons. After that, she was a standout swimmer at Birmingham Groves High School and later at Kalamazoo College.

She's had to juggle her swimming workouts between career changes and having children.

"My first career was as a CPA in the Detroit area," she said. "But after three years, I realized that was something I didn't want to do the rest of my life."

So she got into medical school at Wayne State University, then worked at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and Troy for 10 years before moving to Traverse City with her husband Rob Dolinka and sons Tommy and Danny in 2001.

Reye is a big believer in health.

"After age 30, you lose 10 percent of your muscle mass every 10 years," she said. "Exercise is a huge part of maintaining that muscle mass. That's what drives me – I want to be in good shape when I'm 80-years-old."

Jim Lawrence, Reye's partner at Elk Rapids Family Practice, admits he wasn't always healthy.

"I weighed over 200 pounds and I was on two kinds of blood pressure pills and a cholesterol pill. I decided I needed to change," he said.

For him, the key was turning off the TV.

"I did that 27 years ago," he said. "I got up off the couch."

At age 63, he's in the gym three days a week working out. He jogs. He walks the family dogs five days a week. And when he can, he likes to kite board.

"I'm healthier and happier than ever," he said. "And when I talk to my patients about health, they believe me. My motivation was simple: I wanted to live longer. That's as basic as it gets."

Retired Traverse City doctor Larry Skendzel is the poster child for Reye's ambition.

The 77-year-old Skendzel bicycles "a couple thousand miles a year." And that's only between April and August.

"I do it with a passion," he said. "You have to set a goal. That gets you out of the house. Once I'm cycling, I enjoy the peacefulness. It's really meditative to me.

"I also like the idea of starting off and then getting to a place like Suttons Bay," he said. "Once I'm there, I'll have a cup of coffee and then get back on my bike. Staying in shape is a state of mind. It's a gift."

Skendzel bikes from April through August, then hikes with his wife Jean in the fall. After that, he is a competitive cross-country skier in the winter.

"I still like to compete in races because I like to show people what can be done at my age," he said. "My body has held up real well, so far. That can change in a second, of course. But my knees, back and hips are in good shape, and I know it's because of staying healthy through exercise."

The husband and wife doctor tandem of Leslie and David Heimburger feel exercise helps them cope with their busy lifestyle. They have four children-three in high school and one in sixth grade, with their oldest ready to graduate from high school next spring.

"After the birth of our fourth child, I decided to lose some weight and start running," said 47-year-old Leslie, an internist. "I wasn't a runner at all. I just started out by running as far as I could, then went a little further each time.

"We have so many venues to run in Traverse City. And I run in the rain, the snow, the heat…there's just a euphoria you get from it. I call it my Prozac. It not only keeps me physically healthy, but mentally healthy as well. That's important, because this is going to be the busiest year of my life."

Along with an exercise routine, Leslie also recommends to her patients that they stay hydrated and get enough sleep.

"If you do all three of those, you will feel a difference," she said. "I'm living proof of that."

David Heimburger, 47, a radiation oncologist, deals more with older patients. "I recommend to them walking and swimming," he said. "I also think some sort of resistance (weight) training is good."

For his part, David finds time to get his own exercise in.

"I watch what I eat and I try to follow a heart healthy diet," he said. "And I run about 10 miles a week, then cross country ski in the winter."

Dr. Bill Howard follows his heart and it often takes him great distances.

"My sons and I love to mountaineer," he said. "We've climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, some Mexican volcanoes and also done some climbing in Ecuador."

While in Traverse City, he likes to cycle, "even though it's hard for me to keep up with the younger guys in our group," he said.

Howard, like most of the other doctors, said he believes in setting an example for his patients.

"Practicing medicine can be stressful," he said. "I exercise to relieve that stress."

Howard said in his practice, weight control continues to be a problem for some of his patients.

"I tell them that a regular exercise can help address that," he said. "The key is to pick something you like to do. For me, it's mountaineering. There are still a lot of mountains to climb."

According to the World Health Organization, by not smoking, eating healthier diets and exercising, Americans could prevent 40 percent of cancers, 80 percent of heart disease and save billions of dollars each year just from prevention methods alone.

"As doctors, we talk to our patients all the time about exercise and diet," said Reye. "It's all about prevention…helping our bodies before they need help." BN

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