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Rewind yourself

Nationally known fitness expert shares tips and exercise routines that can help you regain your high school physique

March 14, 2011

Statistics -– and sightings of you from behind -– say it’s likely that you take up more space now than you did your senior year in high school. The Guess jeans that stopped traffic during your glory days aren’t getting over those hips without divine intervention.

In fact, it’s so common to gain a few -– and a few more -– pounds after high school and college that a lot of people see it as inevitable.

Dr. Dixie Stanforth, a University of Texas at Austin fitness expert and personal trainer who’s been studying health and fitness for almost three decades, knows that thigh spread and a triple-decker chin aren’t inevitable. She’s more than happy to tell you how to re-reach and stay at a healthy weight, but — spoiler alert! — you’ve heard it before and you didn’t like it then either.

Dixie Stanforth
Dr. Dixie Stanforth

The key is four simple words: eat less, move more.

“For the most part, marketers and health professionals have been spectacularly unsuccessful at changing behavior when it comes to nutrition and fitness,” said Stanforth, who’s a lecturer in the College of Education‘s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. “What we know about staying healthy isn’t of much use if we can’t figure out how to get people to listen and then act on it.

“The fitness industry comes up with ‘new’ news regularly and shares that, and the same 10 or so percent of people abide by it. That same 10 percent tweak habits and rearrange their eating and workouts a little bit, but they’re the ones who already were eating right and exercising. That leaves a whole lot of people choosing to sit on the couch in front of the TV or a computer, eating fast food and becoming bigger and more at risk for serious health problems each year.”

This whole challenge of crafting messages that people will listen to and act on is what recently drew Stanforth back to school to get a doctorate in advertising, which she completed last May, and what compelled her to undertake one of the most exciting projects she’s ever tackled.

Now, in addition to getting interviewed by major national media, being a media spokesperson for a top sports drink, owning a successful personal training business, being a published scholar and teaching at The University of Texas at Austin … she’s also part of an Emmy-nominated and Cannes award-winning film documentary.

In 2009, Stanforth was chosen to be on the Gatorade Training Council for the very popular Fox Sports documentary “REPLAY.” The multi-award-winning show re-stages classic rivalries of high school sports teams and gives the players, who now are well into their 20s and 30s with jobs, families and “relaxed fit” jeans, the chance to prove it’s never too late to get fit.

Dixie Stanforth
In 2009, Stanforth became part of the Gatorade Training Council for the very popular Fox Sports documentary “REPLAY.” The multi-award-winning show re-stages classic rivalries of high school sports teams and gives the players, who now are well into their 20s and 30s, a chance to get fit with the help of experts like Stanforth.

Over the past 12 or so years, she’s worked with Gatorade in a number of capacities, serving on their Education Advisory Board (EAB) for most of that time.

“Gatorade had always had athletic trainers, medical doctors and sports scientists on board,” said Stanforth. “They approached me to join the EAB because they wanted someone with a strong fitness background. They were looking nationwide for an expert who could talk to ‘real people’ about fitness and translate theory and science into practice. Fortunately, that’s something I absolutely love to do.”

The first season of “REPLAY” featured a bitter, longstanding high school football rivalry between Pennsylvania’s Easton Area Red Rovers and New Jersey’s Phillipsburg Stateliners. The two working class towns had watched 16 years before as a nail-biter of a game had ended in a 7-7 tie between the Rovers and Stateliners. For more than a decade neither side could claim victory and emotions still ran high when “REPLAY” approached the teams to participate in the documentary.

“The first season of ‘REPLAY’ was developed with fairly minimal resources,” says Stanforth, “and after that first season was such an amazing success –- far exceeding anyone’s expectations — the production team looked at ways of refining it and making it even better the next time around. One incredible outcome of this show is that when the players decided to get themselves in better shape, their attitude was ‘contagious’ and affected their wives, girlfriends, children, coworkers and friends as well.

After working on “REPLAY” and getting an advanced degree in advertising with a focus on health communication, Stanforth has discovered that one of the best ways to influence health behaviors is through the power, emotion and “relate-ability” of personal stories. According to Stanforth, the response to “REPLAY” has been, “If those guys can do it, I bet I can, too.”

Still from training module video
Stanforth and her colleagues created online workout videos that anybody can access and try on their own. Because the “REPLAY” documentary is about regaining former fitness levels, the online training modules have names like “Get Your Prom Body Back” and “Zip Up Your Letterman’s Jacket” to emphasize that declining fitness levels aren’t an inevitable side effect of aging.

Stanforth has gone on to help Gatorade make a second season’s documentary about the rematch between two Detroit hockey teams and a third season, which aired last fall, about a Chicago basketball rivalry. Details like big-name celebrity coaches joining the teams, and the enthusiasm athletes and involvement of the communities have made the show addictive to viewers.

“When folks like Gordy Howe and Dwayne Wade have surprised team members and shown up at workouts and for the big game to be honorary coaches, the players have looked like three-year-olds who found a shiny red bike under the Christmas tree,” said Stanforth. “The whole endeavor is just very moving. It’s also based on good science. Before they start their training, the Gatorade Training Council puts the participants through a battery of tests at the start of the season that replicates what professional players go through.”

Stanforth helps to develop training modules for the team and also attends the culminating “REPLAY” game. To get audiences off the couch and into active mode, Gatorade’s provided an assortment of online resources on the “REPLAY” Web site such as collateral stories, inspirational webisodes and training modules that Stanforth helped developed.

“Because the documentary is about regaining your healthier self, we’ve given the online training modules names like ‘Get Your Prom Body Back‘ and ‘Zip Up Your Letterman’s Jacket‘ to emphasize that declining fitness levels and weight gain are not an inevitable side effect of aging,” said Stanforth. “We put together workouts that anybody can do and that will deliver results.”

Closer to home, Stanforth and Dr. Mary Steinhardt, a health education professor in the College of Education, have developed a student-led Wellness Initiative to help employees in The University of Texas at Austin’s Division of Housing and Food Service improve their health. The program includes educational and exercise components, and serves as a training ground for graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.

Stanforth and Steinhardt also have conducted two research projects with this group, the goal being to help people learn how to make healthy choices. Online video clips of inspirational employee stories are accessible to everyone.

“We pretty much know what you need to do to stay at a healthy weight and avoid some of the most serious health problems,” said Stanforth. “The rubber doesn’t meet the road, though, until you figure out why only a few people do it.”

For more information, contact: Kay Randall, College of Education, 512 471 6033;
Photo of Dixie Stanforth: Marsha Miller

Banner photo: Protoflux via Flickr and Creative Commons