Broward County

Losing weight through fitness and Facebook

Lori Hart coaching, Alice Sandler planking and Debra Thaler on the TRX
Lori Hart coaching, Alice Sandler planking and Debra Thaler on the TRX Michele Eve Sandberg

It wasn’t too long ago that Carol Hill struggled to do a step exercise at the gym. Today, she can do it — in a 20-pound vest.

The 65-year-old has been hitting the gym twice a week for a little more than a year with the GOal Getters program at Memorial Fitness Center in Hollywood. Since then, she’s not only gotten in shape, but has reduced her dose of thyroid medication.

“You don’t have to exercise every day,” she said. “Even if you do just twice a week you can make a big impact — twice a week of good exercises.”

That message is something she’s heard regularly from Lori Hart, a fitness instructor with GOal Getters, who manages the group’s Facebook page and regularly sends the group text messages and emails about their progress.

“I love my job,” Hart said. “I really do know at the end of the day that I help people feel better about themselves.”

Memorial is one of a number of fitness programs that incorporate technology and social media to keep their clients connected, educated and on track.

“We feel like the proper education leads to motivation, which leads to perspiration,” said Wesley Smith, director of the University of Miami Guardrails program. “We try to educate them properly on how much of an impact small changes will make. It doesn’t have to be dramatic.”

Smith developed a wellness assessment platform called Guardrails about three years ago. Using algorithms and software, the program evaluates different elements of one’s health. At the end of the screening participants are given an eight-page report card with grades from A to F in the areas of metabolic, musculoskeletal, nutritional and aerobic health. Results are used to customize fitness plans, give nutritional recommendations and offer health advice.

Smith believes that the more educated a population is about their health, the more motivated they’ll be to improve it. He said tweaks, such as adding vegetables to meals or taking the stairs, can make a big difference and play a role in prevention.

“If someone catches a virus, they know in a few days,’’ he said. “But if they catch heart disease, they’ll know in about 30 years.”

Although Guardrails is just for UM students, faculty and staff, Smith and his team have recently founded HealthSnap Solutions, which offers similar screenings to be done at doctors’ offices. The university is involved in this project as well.

“We’re educating the community on this product,” said Yenvy Truong, CEO of HealthSnap. “It’s not just another routine assessment. It’s specialized and personalized information.”

Samson Magid, a co-founder of HealthSnap, agrees.

“It’s not just telling people to get leafy vegetables because they’re good for you, but to eat them because they can lower your chances of certain diseases or cancer,” he said.

At Memorial, Hart and her team have developed a full-body workout program that changes every two weeks. Participants are encouraged to go to the classes twice a week.

“You introduce the exercises, and they’re like ‘Oh my, what’s happening?’ then the second time they’re practicing and the third time they should perfect it,” Hart said. “It makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something.”

But before anyone gets too comfortable with the routine, Hart and her teachers will change it. Exercise physiologists are on hand to oversee the participants’ health, and help them improve their health and fitness.

During a recent 7 a.m. class, Hart spent time explaining to her 10-member class how to use various exercise stations. There were ones that involved jumping with a 20-pound vest, doing planks and lifting weights.

They moved from station to station — and within minutes everyone was sweating. At one point Derek Burkholder, 33, was working out with ropes, forcing them up and down with his arms making a loud thump sound. After a few minutes he began to tire and the thumping sound diminshed.

“What happened to all the noise you usually make?” shouted Hart, in a manner that made the others crack a smile.

Burkholder, a marine biologist, let out a grin before catching a second wind.

Burkholder began working out with GOal Getters in August. He has lost close to 50 pounds. He says he enjoys the classes, and has been able to live a healthier lifestyle thanks to the training.

“It’s never a place where you start plateauing,” Burkholder said. “It’s always a full body; it’s never targeting one little thing. And you’re drenched.”

Outside of class, Facebook is the glue that keeps the group together. People can stay in touch, download homework assignments — like one that asks them to find their personal heart rate — and share recipes.

So when Kelsey Vasquez sprained her ankle while working out recently at the fitness center, she posted a photo of her foot with a caption that updated her classmates on her status.

“Sorry for the extra excitement today!!” she wrote. “Hope everyone got a good workout in!!”