Free UM class offers tips on healthy diet and exercise


The University of Miami starts a series of free wellness classes on Saturday.

If you go

What: FOGO Wellness

Where: Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center, 11155 SW 112th Ave., Miami

When: 7 to 9 a.m. Saturdays through May 11

Details: A $25 deposit to reserve a place in the course will be returned at the end of the 16-week program.

For more information: Visit or send questions to or call 408-600-5447.

Special to the Miami Herald

Selina Stasi, a public health graduate student at the University of Miami, learned long ago that a healthy diet plus exercise equals a happier life.

On Saturday, Stasi and her colleagues of the FOGO Wellness initiative based at UM’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, will launch a no cost 16-week program for anyone who wants to bring that equation home.

“Fogo, in Portuguese, means fire. It represents the passion needed to accomplish eating right and being physically active. What you put into it, you get out of it,” Stasi said.

No gym membership, carb counting or weigh-in is required. Just show up 7 a.m. Saturdays at the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center in Kendall for two hours of free nutrition and fitness lifestyle lessons.

A $25 deposit is required to reserve space in the program, but it will be returned at the end of the course.

Ashley Falcon, assistant director for Wellness Programs at UM’s Herbert Wellness Center and a FOGO’s program coordinator, said the key to sustainable health as it relates to weight is behavior modification. Its a fact that overweight people are more susceptible to chronic illnesses including hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

“Two thirds of all Americans are overweight. Among them, one third are obese. When the Centers for Disease Control says that 50 percent of our population has a chronic disease and seven of 10 deaths are attributed to chronic disease, we see nutrition and exercise as medicine,” Falcon said.

Many of the first 50 participants were prescribed to the program by nearly 25 Miami-Dade County physicians who agreed to make “Rx pad referrals.” The average age of the class is 51.

“Most exercise and diet programs have short term results but we teach healthy behaviors that last a lifetime. It’s like choosing to give someone a fish or teaching them how to fish,” Falcon said.

FOGO director Mark Stoutenberg, who is an assistant professor of Public Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and a diabetes and obesity advisor in several South American nations, is all in for fishing. He won a $25,000 grant from the Health Foundation of South Florida to make the free program happen.

The two-hour classes are divided into segments.

First is a lesson about specific aspects of nutrition and exercise. Topics could be the importance of including foods with fiber in every daily menu, or tips to putting more walking steps in the day — such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Participants will be asked to do weekly tasks at home, like read the labels on canned or boxed foods. Then they will share what they learned with the class and discuss ways to prepare the foods from scratch to eliminate unhealthy additives.

Low impact movement happens next — like stretching.

A mid-level energy activity, such as yoga, caps the class but is not mandatory. All physical activity is done at the individual’s own pace and level of ability.

“We have to take into consideration that some people may not have had physical activity in a long time. Bending down to pick something up may seem simple to one person and a challenge to another,” Stasi said.

Optional additional activities such as taking a walk around the building, will be available after class. Groups may also take field trips to parks or restaurants.

Falcon said anyone can join, even if just to get off the couch and away from the computer.

“You don’t need a gym membership. You may have never been or ever will be an athlete. You can think you have two left feet. And it is possible to be big and fit,” Falcon said.

Here’s the point: weight management is important but not more important than cardiovascular fitness.

“We’ve been doing training programs successfully for people who are already physically active. Now we are reaching out to people who are not active plus throwing in nutrition for people who have trouble with weight. But its not just come out and be active and lose weight. Its learning how to sustain healthy behavior for a healthy lifetime — whether you are are big or not — and then keep it up long after the 16 weeks are over,” Falcon said.

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