Healthy Life

Top Health Trends in Southwest Florida

How the Gulfshore stays in shape.

BY October 31, 2017


Here on the Gulfshore, we’re lucky. We have a lot of fitness options, and, thanks to retirement living, many of us have plenty of time to explore them. Here, we detail some of the latest and greatest ways your friends and neighbors are staying healthy.


A Step Toward Good Health

Sometimes getting back in shape is literally just putting one foot ahead of the other.

New community programs are getting people out and walking again. The Blue Zones Project, a nationwide health initiative that’s been introduced locally by NCH Healthcare System, organizes walking groups called Moais. Healthy Lee, a community-based health initiative in Lee County, promotes walking in several ways, including the Million Mile Movement launched two years ago.  

In an area with an older demographic, walking has proven to be one of the quickest and easiest ways to get people active. In about three years, more than 45 Moai groups have started locally, says Blue Zones-Southwest Florida Executive Director Deb Logan. As part of her Moai group, Naples retiree Gail Smith walks twice a week, 3 to 5 miles each time, at her Village Walk community center. The indoor center provides a respite from the heat, and the wooden floors are easier on the joints than asphalt, she says.

The Moai group just started as a walking group; now it has led to other organized health activates, including a Zumba class. The group participated in Blue Zone’s National Walking Day event, where more than 400 people walked in downtown Naples. Along with the exercise comes camaraderie. The group now hosts potluck luncheons (with salads and other healthy options, of course). “Our walking group is more than just walking,” she says.

Start walking regularly and before you know it, it could lead to something bigger. The Million Mile Movement (which also promotes cycling, swimming or walking) is an annual campaign that’s scheduled from Jan. 1 to March 31 in which people log how many miles they move each day. The second annual movement went about 760,000 miles, doubling what they got the previous year. It’s not 1 million, but it’s progress that’s getting people off the couch. “It’s about creating awareness of how sedentary we’ve become,” says Christin Collins, co-chairperson for the movement and Lee Health’s System Health and Wellness Strategic Business Partner.

If you’re walking, it’s better than sitting. And if it leads to more exercise, that’s even better. But you have to make that first step.


Staying Healthy at Work

Before long, that vending machine in your breakroom may be devoid of chips and candy bars. And walk breaks may replace smoke breaks. Office health initiatives are on the rise.

One branch of the Blue Zones Project focuses on getting workplaces to become healthier. FineMark National Bank & Trust’s office in Naples was the first in Collier County to meet the standards to become a Blue Zones-approved worksite and is now one of 15 county-wide.

The changes at the bank weren’t groundbreaking, but they’ve made their impact in subtle ways, says Patricia Luppy, marketing associate for the Naples market. The bank has always had an on-site chef who’d make lunch for staff and for client meetings. Since joining Blue Zones, the chef now includes more healthful options on the menu, including a veggie-heavy macrobowl. And then there were the cookies. The chef bakes cookies every morning for anyone who comes in the bank. They couldn’t get rid of those, of course. They’re way too popular. So, they provided an alternative. Now, there’s also a bowl full of packaged nuts that clients can take on the go.

The bank also takes office-wide walk breaks twice a day. It’s not required, but for 10 minutes everyone can go take a few laps around the building to get up and moving.

None of these changes are big, culture-upending requirements. They are instead small steps to something bigger. “We’re offering people more options, so hopefully they can make healthier choices,” Luppy says. 

As part of her job with Lee Health, Christin Collins works daily with businesses in Lee County to promote in-office health plans. When she first started five years ago, it was a hard sell. The typical response was, “We don’t have the budget.” But more are seeing how it works. Healthier employees mean more productive employees, fewer sick days and less brain fog. “It actually shows that the employer cares about the employees,” Collins says. “It’s very inspiring to see this region embracing preventive medicine.”

That mentality is the same at Naples Botanical Garden, which is a Blue Zones-certified worksite. Employees now enjoy free yoga or tai chi classes, paid time off to volunteer and staff-wide potlucks, among other benefits, says Kim Olson, who led the certification effort. The bottom line it comes down to this, she says: “What can we do to enrich the lives of our employees while they’re here?”


Up Your Intensity with HIIT

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) seems to be the hot acronym floating around fitness circles lately. And for good reason. Recent research shows how HIIT—which is short bursts of high activity followed by periods of low activity—might be more beneficial than exercise at an unwavering intensity level.  

The concept of HIIT came from a Japanese researcher, Dr. Izumi Tabata, who sought to develop the most efficient workout possible. His workout was intense, to say the least—the 20-second high-intensity sessions were super serious, as in, verge of exhaustion, might throw-up level of intensity. Through the years the concept has varied, but the idea of trading periods of high intensity with periods of rest has stayed the same.

Angie Ferguson, a Fort Myers trainer, frequently uses the concept of HIIT in her fitness programs. But it doesn’t have to be nausea-inducing. It could be as simple as going from a sprint to a jog on a treadmill. So don’t be scared off. “We have to tailor it to the individual,” she says.

Many gyms have also based their workouts around this concept. CrossFit draws inspiration from HIIT. At CrossFit Real Fitness in Naples, for example, you’ll get a tailored exercise that’s a little different each day. Aside from warm-ups and stretching, the actual workout may last only 10 minutes to a half-hour. But you won’t need much more due to the varying intensity.

Orangetheory fitness is one of the fastest-growing fitness studios in the country (with four in Southwest Florida). It’s also based on a HIIT concept—the benefits coming after the workout, says lead coach Marissa Abrams. The workout is designed so your body will work to recover from the bursts of exercise and burn more calories as a result. Better yet: “You’ll feel great and see amazing results,” she says.


Join the Gang for a Better Workout

No desire to work out with others? Maybe you haven’t found the right group. If you do, it might just be the boost you need.

Trainer Kim Thomas specializes in group workouts. She teaches a Boot Camp for Boomers at Pelican Bay. Any age can join, but the workout is geared toward the 50-plus crowd. You’ll get a body weight workout—push-ups, sit-ups, burpees. It can be tailored to your needs, too, if you’ve got an aching back or certain area that needs work.

The group is small, so it’s not a big gym with one instructor barking at the whole class. It’s a smaller group doing similar routines, but there’s a personalized touch that you may not find elsewhere. Added bonus: You train with a personal trainer—however, it won’t be as costly as one-on-one personal training. 

In Southwest Florida, that can be a great fit. An older demographic is looking for more personalized exercise—and may have a few ailments to work around. The Boot Camp for Boomers came about because Thomas saw a need for a moderate to more intense workout aimed at an older generation. “It’s a way to stay in shape while also being safe about how hard they want to push themselves,” she says.  “They want to feel good and they want to look good.”

Thomas has taught a men’s golf group for ages 60 and up, where exercises were tailored to strengthen the core and hone their bodies to better their game. She’s also taught husbands and wives or families together. Small group classes like this also promote bonding among the participants—they all have a similar interest and can help prod each other along. “It promotes camaraderie—and competition,” she says.


The Ultimate in Wellness Centers

If you’re going to revamp a fitness center, do it right. Go all out. That’s the mindset Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples took when it decided to debut its 30,000-square-foot Wellness Center in February.

Many private communities locally boast top-notch golf or tennis facilities. The next must-have amenity continues to be a wellness center. But when we say “wellness center,” think bigger than what you may have seen before.

Grey Oaks’ new center was a grand improvement from its last gym—which was maybe one-fourth the size of the new one. One of the main complaints, obviously, was that there wasn’t enough room.

So they made plenty.

What resulted is a dream for any workout buff—a spa, private studios, a café with on-site nutritionist, and a special area for physical therapy.

The new wellness center has a studio-within-a-studio layout. It’s not just endless rows of workout equipment. Of course, they’ve got the latest and greatest gear. But, for example, within the main room is a special private training area. Members schedule an appointment or drop in and work with a private trainer. This allows for more upscale equipment that requires some guidance. The Queenax, for example, looks like a cage draped in straps. But it can be used to promote one of the core qualities of Grey Oaks: functional movement. The straps allow resistance to work on parts of the golf swing or tennis stroke—or just simple lifting.

A major development is a partnership with NCH. Aside from the physical therapist on-site, NCH also has a physician assistant at the wellness center who oversees a small clinic.

It’s the next generation of workout facilities—something for everyone to accommodate a generation that’s looking to stay active late in life.

“We’re here to help tap into your max potential,” says Fitness Manager Megan Kohan.


A Coach to Guide you to Good Health

Navigating your way through the sea of health information out there is certainly a challenge.

That’s where a holistic health coach like Michelle Joy Kramer steps in. A holistic health coach is someone who looks at you—everything from diet to exercise to sleep to stress—and finds a path to make you feel better.

Her mantra: “Every body is different.”

Kramer became a triathlete in her 20s, even finishing the Ironman competition in Hawaii a few seconds under her 12-hour goal. All the while, she wasn’t feeling great. She was the picture of good health, but she didn’t feel it. She was having digestive issues. She was taking Advil daily. In seeking out ways to get better, an acupuncturist told her to look at what she was eating. Wheat, dairy and sugar were the main culprits. She changed her diet and her life turned around.

From then, Kramer became more interested in whole body health, and started taking classes on health coaching through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.

Her clients are people who come to her looking to lose weight or sleep better or lower blood pressure or get off certain medications—or maybe all of the above.

The first step: Slow down and simplify. Find what’s working and not working for you. “You know your own body best,” she says.

Kramer sets clients up with a six-month plan, testing what works and doesn’t work along the way. Coach and client consult twice a week (usually over Skype). She’ll even get health information from heart rate monitors clients wear during exercise. Some re-up for another six months; others feel comfortable going their own way.

The whole experience can be life-changing for people, Kramer says, because it gets them thinking beyond just calories and pounds. It takes work, focus and dedication, but at the end of that six months, the results should show.  


The Latest in Meditation, Relaxation and Yoga

Need to relax? Take a deep breath. Or, take a class. And then take a deep breath. Southwest Florida is awash in classes that can help soothe your soul and relax your body—and you might get a bit of a workout on your way to inner peace.

Mindful Meditation

Our brains have a tendency to get distracted a lot these days. Mindful meditation is a way to strip away the stress and bring the focus back to just being. Try: Open Mind Zen Naples (961-2491,; Yoga Bird in Fort Myers (936-6940,

Hot Yoga

Hot yoga is, you guessed it, yoga in high temperatures. It can be used to promote flexibility and allow your body to burn off more calories. Birkram Yoga, in particular, is a series of 26 poses done in 104 degrees and has become renowned worldwide. Try: Hot Yoga Naples (596-4549,

Aerial Yoga

Aerial yoga (or antigravity yoga) is yoga done suspended in mid-air from a silk hammock. Sounds fun, right? Just don’t be surprised if you’re hanging upside-down at some point. Try: House of Flyte (260-7782,; Yayso Yoga (482-4300,

Beach Yoga

Sometimes, you just have to remind yourself how lovely it is to live here. Beach yoga is a fairly gentle yoga session and a great way to relax while breathing in the sea air. Try: Lowdermilk Beach Park with Donation Yoga Naples (877-1161,; Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park with Green Monkey Yoga (598-1938,

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient form of martial arts. Nowadays, its deliberate movements and deep breathing are a form of de-stressing. Try: Shangri-La Springs in Bonita Springs (949-0749,; Gateway Yoga with Sylvia (768-145,

Chair Yoga

If your range of motion or balance is limited (or you just don’t prefer to be on the ground), chair yoga is for you. It’s a fairly routine yoga session, just done with the aid of a chair. Try: Center for Health and Harmony in Fort Myers (433-5995,; Love Yoga Center (692-9747,


Get Fit with Your Smartphone

Can’t find time to go to the gym? Not an excuse anymore. Particularly when your gym can be virtual. An online workout session can be the next best thing to getting a personal trainer. And, as technology develops, you can stream on all manner of screens—Apple TV to smartphone. Here are a few of the best apps out there.

Crunch Live: The mega-gym was one of the first of its kind to offer its classes online. The workouts range from 15-minute “quickies” to dance cardio to Pilates. Cost: $9.99/month

iBodyFit: This site, from one of Shape’s “Top 50 Trainers” Franklin Antoian, features more than 400 workout routines that get as specific as triathlon training or senior fitness. Full diet plans designed by certified nutritionists are also available. Cost: $49 and up

Charity Miles: This iPhone app allows you to give back and work out. Corporate sponsors are lined up to pay up to 25 cents per mile you walk, run or ride that goes to one of its dozens of participating charities. Cost: Free for you

Daily Burn: You’ve probably seen the commercials with The Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper, but this favorably reviewed program lives up to the hype. Pick from a library of 30-minute workouts you can do from home. If you need a pick-me-up, converse with its extensive online community of fellow Daily Burners just like you. Cost: $15/month

DOYOUYOGA: It’s a simple question: Do you yoga? No matter the answer, there’s a yoga routine here for you. Stream beginner or advanced yoga videos and sign up for its programs, like the 30 Days of Yoga Challenge. Cost: $12/month


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