Mark A. Johnson, health equity team leader at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, looks and sounds gentle enough.
He warns the women he leads in his free low-impact aerobics classes that we have to move more to improve our health, and he encourages us to eat our favorite comfort foods sparingly.
But that's the nice Johnson.
The other Johnson smiles while making the class sweat as we lift our legs, crunch our abdomens and curl our biceps. And that is soon after we already have been stepping, marching and raising our arms to the heavens.
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For four years, Johnson has been determined to get us (me included) in better shape and help us live better longer, despite the abuse I level at him.
He is spearheading the fourth Community Weight Loss Challenge, along with Jill Chenault-Wilson, director of the William Wells Brown Community Center, through Dec. 15 at the center.
Sponsored by the health department, the Lexington Division of Parks and Recreation, Central Baptist HealthwoRx, and the Office of Health Equity-Kentucky Department for Public Health, the challenge will offer free exercise classes, health evaluations and nutrition workshops.
The kickoff is from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 20. Health professionals from Central Baptist will kick off the challenge with free pre-health assessments in which they will measure weight, body circumference, body mass index and blood pressure to get a starting measure of your health risk.
Having been through this part in years past when it was called the "Biggest Loser" challenge, let me warn you to get there as close to 5:30 p.m. as you can. The lines grow longer as time passes.
Aerobics begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 22. After that, aerobics will be held on Tuesdays, with Zumba on Thursdays.
After those classes, there will be other activities including defense training, line dancing, hula hooping, yoga, and strength and toning classes. Or people can go to the weight room at the community center, where trainers are available from 5 to 8:45 p.m. There will be nutrition and cooking classes offered in another room at 7 p.m. And free child care for children 4 years old and older is available.
Although the challenge is open to adults, Johnson said, "if someone has a teenager with weight issues, we will accept them as well."
The challenge ends on Dec. 15, with final weigh-in on Dec. 13.
The challenge is modeled after "Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better," a national program developed to encourage black women to reach and maintain a healthy weight through exercise and nutrition. It began as a pilot program in Boston in 1994, and was developed by Weight-control Information Network (WIN), a part of the National Institutes of Health, to discern and eliminate reasons black women had for not exercising or eating correctly.
Johnson has been using the WIN materials and decided to change the name of the challenge this year to "Sisters and Brothers Together: Move More, Eat Better." Men need to be more conscious of their fitness as well, Johnson said.
That change and the results Johnson has been getting over the years caught the eye of WIN officials, and Johnson has been asked to be a member of a panel in Bethesda, Md., next month that will discuss his results and his outreach to the community.
"This is a special recognition for the community," Johnson said. "I am thrilled to be chosen."
In October, health professionals will hold a free health fair at William Wells Brown that will feature other health risk evaluations, including a glucose test, the results of which can then be taken to your doctor for further evaluation. Slots will be available every 15 minutes, and people can sign up after Sisters and Brothers Together begins.
Johnson has tried to eliminate all the barriers we may have to getting fit. The only obstacle left is our willingness to take him up on his challenge.
Come join me. I don't want to suffer alone.