Empowering women to care for their health

Alicia DeRuscio, HealthLink Littauer's community education assistant, and The Heartbeats invited the women in attendance to get up and take charge of their health by joining the conga line during Littauer's 22nd annual Images of a Woman conference held at the Holiday in on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — Women were taught how to overcome the barriers to health and wellness through exercise during HealthLink Littauer’s 22nd annual women’s wellness conference, Images of a Woman, held at the Holiday Inn on Wednesday.

Again this year, HealthLink Littauer, the community health and wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home, offered two sessions to welcome the wide range of women who attended the conference featuring chair massages, reflexology, a photo booth, a variety of vendors, raffle prizes and a buffet-style meal.

Tammy Merendo, Littauer’s director of community education, said this year’s conference recognized and celebrated the many roles women play over their lifetime and focused on ways to make exercise fun through movement, mood and music.

“We’re just trying to get people to get up and get moving and we encourage you to work out with friends, make it fun, it doesn’t have to be just walking on a treadmill, boring, there’s more to it than that,” Merendo said Wednesday. “Not just physically, spiritually, you’ll feel better.”

Merendo noted the host of chronic illnesses associated with the nationwide obesity epidemic, including diabetes and heart disease, saying the goal of the event was to promote wellness and healthy habits.

Alicia DeRuscio, HealthLink Littauer's community education assistant, and The Heartbeats show women how fitness can be fun while moving to the beat of "The Twist" during Littauer's 22nd annual Images of a Woman conference held at the Holiday in on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

“We need to find a way that people will start increasing their activity level,” Merendo said. “There’s so many things that happen when you start being sedentary.”

Keynote speaker Alicia DeRuscio, Littauer’s community education assistant, tried to motivate the women by sharing her own fitness journey, tips for overcoming obstacles and a few dance moves.

“I’m a big advocate of health and fitness,” DeRuscio said. “This wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, I didn’t really care too much about my health.”

When younger, DeRuscio said she ate whatever she wanted always choosing food options like mashed potatoes with sour cream and butter over salad. As she entered middle school, she started to feel self-conscious about her weight.

“I didn’t like the way that I looked, I was bigger than the other girls, I didn’t like how I felt, so I decided to make a change and I joined the cross country team. Now you can imagine that this was a bit of a challenge for me because I went from doing nothing to running three, four, five, even six miles a day. So it was difficult, but I liked it,” DeRuscio said.

Women were taught how to overcome the barriers to health and wellness through exercise during HealthLink Littauer's 22nd annual women's wellness conference, Images of a Woman, held at the Holiday Inn on Wednesday. The event featured chair massages, reflexology, a photo booth, a variety of vendors, raffle prizes and a buffet-style meal. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

From there she started taking fitness classes with her mother, realizing her passion for exercise and later becoming a certified Zumba instructor and personal trainer. Eventually her focus shifted with a view towards overall health.

“Not so much just being active, but I wanted to be healthy overall, so I was concerned with the kinds of foods I was putting into my body, what I was fueling my body with,” DeRuscio said.

HealthLink Littauer shares the same focus, emphasizing a reduction of preventable illnesses this year, with obesity high on the list.

“Obesity is actually the second leading cause of preventable death, what does that mean? Well we can prevent it, right? We can choose to eat a healthy and nutritious diet, we can choose to stay active and maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is also a risk factor for many other chronic diseases,” DeRuscio said.

“Aside from that, when we’re overweight it can effect the quality of our life, it can make us feel crappy, fatigued, tired, we don’t want to do anything,” she added. “I want to focus on what we can do to better ourselves.”

Alicia DeRuscio, HealthLink Littauer's community education assistant, gave the keynote speech on the importance of health and wellness during the 22nd annual Images of a Woman conference held at the Holiday Inn on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

When DeRuscio asked the women in the room who exercise for 30 minutes two to three times a week to raise their hands, less than half of the roughly 100 present did so.

She argued that it can be difficult to overcome certain barriers to being active, like time, money, motivation, support and health concerns, but said the benefits are worth the effort explaining how to take on each challenge.

To overcome time, DeRuscio recommended scheduling or planning time to be active. As a fitness instructor, personal trainer, HealthLink employee, nursing student at Fulton Montgomery Community College and dog owner, DeRuscio said she could relate, noting that time never stops moving and it is up to each person to make time for themselves.

With regards to money, DeRuscio said doing simple things like parking further away from the grocery store or using the stairs instead of the elevator are simple, free ways to get extra steps towards fitness into the day.

To tackle lack of motivation, she suggested tying things that you already enjoy to physical activities. People who enjoy being outside can hike or walk, dog owners can play with their pet, she said, highlighting the need to find something that people personally enjoy to stay motivated.

Support can be motivational or demotivational, according to DeRuscio, who proposed finding friends to exercise with to challenge yourself and to provide a structured plan that you’re less likely to back out of.

DeRuscio herself was supported during the conference by The Heartbeats, featuring Carol Baker, Charlotte Conyne, Debbie Countryman, Maryssa Dufel, Lisa Kenyon and Susan McNeil, who danced alongside her to “Let’s Get Physical,” “The Twist” and “Dancing Queen” to demonstrate how exercise through music and movement can be fun.

Finally regarding health concerns, DeRuscio said that being sedentary can do more harm to the body than exercising for individuals with conditions like arthritis or limited mobility. For her own mother who has arthritis, DeRuscio said exercise decreases her pain and stiffness.

“Think about as we age, if we’re sitting around, we’re not used to doing too much, we try to walk up the stairs, we’re more likely to fall,” DeRuscio added. “We’re at an increased risk for falling, maybe even breaking bones, so it’s important that we try to stay active.”

DeRuscio reminded those in attendance who are just starting their fitness journey to start slow, doing low to moderate activities at a pace that allows them to carry on a conversation without gasping for breath. Exercise should not cause pain, although it may cause soreness in muscles. She said everyone should warm up and cool down with stretches to prevent injury and talk to their health care provider for exercise recommendations.

“Now at this point we invite you to take charge of your health and join us in the conga train, get up and get moving with us,” DeRuscio said before she and The Heartbeats formed a line and danced through the room. “Ultimately put yourself and your health first.”

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