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Dr. Suzanne Kim, a Bethesda dentist, examines Thom's teeth to determine his suitability for teeth whitening.

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Thom examines a kumquat in the produce section of Roots Market in Clarksville.

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Kristine Wheery, an instructor at Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Gaithersburg, helps Thom lead her through a turn.

Gains and Losses Add Up

Thom Works Hard in the Homestretch

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The gains are impressive: increased flexibility, endurance, and lean muscle mass. And so are the losses: 10 pounds, 7.3 percentage points of body fat, and 5.5 inches from the waistline.

‘‘I’m going to my 45th reunion looking like him,” says Hunter, 63, pointing to physical trainer Bernard Acheampong at Royal Fitness and Nutrition in Bethesda. ‘‘Well, maybe not exactly like that,” he says with a chuckle.

The New York native will return to his high school in September sporting a new look, courtesy of The Gazette’s Healthy Challenge. Since mid-March, Thom has been receiving physical training and other services, all part of a $25,000 self-improvement package.

‘‘Today we’re going to focus on your core,” Acheampong tells Thom. ‘‘We’ll incorporate balance into what you’re doing. Your muscles exercise harder when you have to stabilize your body,” he says.

Thom begins with squats. The trainer hands him a six-pound medicine ball. Lunges follow.

Then, another round of squats. This time, Acheampong turns a bosu ball upside down and has Thom do them while balancing on top. Grasping the medicine ball, Thom moves up and down, never losing his balance.

‘‘Now we’re going to target the core itself,” says the trainer. Floor work ensues. Thom does bridges, planks, and side lifts.

‘‘Let’s try the same things, but on the ball,” says Acheampong, rolling a large, pink stability ball toward Thom. ‘‘It brings a new dynamic to the exercise.”

Thom finishes the workout doing push ups while balancing both feet on the stability ball and one hand on the smaller medicine ball. ‘‘It’s amazing how the ball increases the intensity of the exercises,” he says.

While the intensity of the workout at Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Gaithersburg is not quite the same, Thom does break a sweat on the dance floor. Instructor Kristine Wherry has him doing the Tango. Wherry keeps count as Thom leads her across the floor. ‘‘Super!” she says.

The Salsa comes next. ‘‘Let’s review the handshake,” says Thom, ‘‘the new move we did last week.”

Wherry faces Thom. ‘‘For you to turn, I go quick, quick, slow,” she says demonstrating, ‘‘and you give me a high five. That’s the signal.”

As the music changes, it’s Rumba time. Wherry shows Thom the basic steps. A minute later they are moving across the floor, dancing to a romantic Latin beat.

Near the lesson’s end, Wherry introduces the Cha-Cha. The dance is derived from the Rumba and Mambo. ‘‘You’ll start with a side step,” says Wherry. ‘‘It’s sort of like putting the key in the ignition – then we’re off,” she says smiling.

Thom’s smile expands into an oval as Dr. Suzanne Kim, a Bethesda dentist, determines his suitability for a teeth-whitening procedure. Thom points out some capped teeth, including one in the front, the result of an accident.

While not a candidate for teeth whitening, Thom learns from Kim that his night-time teeth grinding is a problem. ‘‘You really need a mouth guard,” she says. ‘‘to force your teeth into a resting position at night.”

An x-ray reveals potential trouble. Kim suggests seeing a specialist before the teeth become a problem.

What isn’t a problem for Thom these days is his diet. ‘‘I feel as though I’ve got my eating under control,” he tells Carolyn Miller, a registered dietician with Rockville Internal Medicine Group. Midway through the Healthy Challenge, Thom and co-winner Yvonne Savage have switched nutritionists – the idea being to expose them to different ways of approaching food and eating.

‘‘What I’m interested in now is adding foods that, along with my exercise, will help increase my muscle mass,” Thom says.

‘‘Any food that is not empty calories will build mass,” Miller says. ‘‘Your body needs a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.”

Thom asks about high protein diets. Miller reminds him that the body needs glucose, which it gets from carbohydrates. Fiber, found in complex carbohydrates, also is important, she says, because ‘‘it binds with cholesterol and eliminates it from the body; absorbs water, making you feel fuller; and helps keep blood sugar levels even.”

All carbohydrates are not equal. ‘‘It must have three grams of fiber before I’d ever pick it up,” Miller says. To determine if the carb in question should be consumed, she tells Thom to multiply the grams of sugar by three. ‘‘If that number is higher than the total carbs, don’t buy it.”

Thom employs the equation during a trip to Roots Market in Clarksville. This full-service natural foods store has given him $500 in certificates to spend on groceries, vitamin supplements, and body care items.

The large cheese selection catches Thom’s attention. Previously, he purchased Boursin light cheese with garlic and herbs. This time he selects Amish yogurt cheese.

In the meat section, Thom chooses wild Alaskan salmon filets from Ecofish and some mahi mahi. After reading the label on a package of Hans All Natural andouille, a Cajun smoked chicken sausage, he puts it in the cart.

Thom spies DHEA Complex for Men among the vitamin supplements. Dehydroeiandrosterone, manufactured by the adrenal glands, plays an essential role in energy production, metabolism, immunity, and stress management, according to some studies. ‘‘Dr. Pennington suggested this type of supplement after reviewing my blood panels,” says Thom.

Dr. Andrea Pennington, of the Pennington Institute in Silver Spring, has sent Thom a five-page report on his blood work and urinalysis. It reviews chemical composition, cholesterol, homocysteine, and hormone and thyroid levels, and gives a complete blood count.

Thom, who has recently begun taking medication for high cholesterol, is thrilled with the results. At 141, his cholesterol level is well within the acceptable range. ‘‘Not bad considering where it had been,” says Thom.

With many of his health and fitness issues now being resolved, Thom is making great strides. The gains and losses are adding up and he can see and feel the difference. ‘‘It’s remarkable,” he says.

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