Like many physicians, Jeff Greenspan was less than conscientious about minding his own health. As he entered his 50s, he could feel the pounds accumulating around his waist, but he was reluctant to step on a scale for confirmation. He was feeling achy, irritable, and lethargic, and he shrank from taxing physical tasks.
His exercise consisted of occasional runs around his Wynnewood neighborhood or 30 minutes on his home treadmill or stair-climber, but he regarded the sessions as a perfunctory chore. Rarely did he push himself or achieve the psychic high that rewards maximum exertion.
Four years ago, a physical exam for a life insurance policy forced him to face facts. His weight had climbed to 197 pounds, an all-time peak and nearly 30 pounds heavier than optimum. More alarming were his blood lipid numbers.
His LDL, or bad cholesterol, which should be less than 100, was 142.
His HDL, or good cholesterol, which should be over 50, was just barely, at 52.
"It was a wake-up call," recalls Greenspan, 56, a gastroenterologist in private practice in Northeast Philadelphia.
The numbers were especially ominous because Greenspan's father, Jerome, had suffered a nonfatal heart attack at age 60.
A final fillip: While attending his mother's 80th-birthday party, Greenspan met a former next-door neighbor.
"Wow, you really look middle-aged," the neighbor exclaimed. "You better get to the gym!"
Fortunately for Greenspan, the path was already blazed. His wife, Jodi, had maintained her slender figure by taking up spinning, a demanding workout on stationary cycles with weighted wheels and variable resistance.
While looking for a form of intense aerobic exercise, Jodi had noticed that participants in spinning classes at the Philadelphia Sports Club in Ardmore always emerged "drenched, looking like they were about to die."
The sight was intimidating but didn't deter Jodi from signing up. The first couple of times, she was so fried she nearly vomited. But she persisted, at first surviving, then relishing, the Sunday classes led by Carrie Hubley, the instructor deemed toughest.
Escorted by his wife and friends, Jeff Greenspan dutifully reported to spinning class. It was an intervention of sorts. He positioned himself in the back of the room, so he'd be inconspicuous. The workout was so challenging and exhausting that periodically he had to dismount to catch his wind and let the burn fade from his legs.
But within a week, he managed to make it through a class without taking a break and sitting down. The sense of accomplishment was thrilling, and his competitive juices began stirring. Says Jeff: "I wanted to be as good as everyone else."
Today, Jeff is the class standout.
"He's on fire," Hubley says. "Invincible. He pedals at the highest speed and with the toughest resistance. His body is powerful and strong, and his cardiovascular endurance is insane."
"I try to give it my all for 45 minutes," says Jeff, who charges through the workouts with the fierce focus of Lance Armstrong scaling the Pyrenees in the Tour de France.
Jeff attends spinning class four times a week, as well as a resistance exercise class to strengthen his core. Jodi says Jeff is "addicted"; he says he's "committed." "It's part of my routine," he says. "I know I have to do it."
His dedication has paid off. His weight has dropped to 184 pounds. "His clothes fit better," Jodi says. "He's more patient and has more energy and enthusiasm." She adds: "He's sexy."
Most telling are his latest lipid numbers:
LDL: 83. HDL: 95. He has the resting heart rate, 45, of a marathon runner.
In every dimension, Jeff is a new man, and his transformation has deepened his respect for the value of exercise and led to two epiphanies.
Epiphany 1: "So many of the illnesses and problems I see as a doctor are self-induced," Jeff says. "They're largely the result of poor lifestyle choices and people not taking care of their bodies.
"Studies show that people who work out, who engage in strenuous exercise regularly, have a lower incidence of colon, pancreatic, and breast cancer. Every patient I see has stress and anxiety. No one can avoid it. But no pill beats exercise. It's the best therapy for emotional fitness."
Epiphany 2: "Sometimes it's necessary to have a motivator who can push you out of your comfort zone and help you stay committed."
For the Greenspans, that motivator is Hubley, 36, a self-admitted "adrenaline junkie," jock of all sports (especially lacrosse; she was a high school all-American), and German/Irish beauty who makes Jillian Michaels look like a warthog (all right, a comely warthog). Jeff calls her "a female Tony Robbins" because of her "it factor," an extraordinary ability to connect, engage, and inspire people.
"She pushes everybody," Jodi says. "You can't hide in Carrie's class."
"I teach every class like it's my first and last," Hubley says. "I love the energy that comes off the participants. It feeds me."
Not to mention the satisfaction of renewing the vigor and confidence of the likes of Jeff Greenspan. Says Hubley proudly: "He's got the swagger."
Contact columnist Art Carey at 215-854-5606 or email@example.com.