I don't think anyone will deny the fact that the health and fitness industry, as a whole, has failed in getting more Americans to exercise. There are as many theories as to why this is, as there are excuses not to exercise. Yet much of the blame has consistently centered on the industry's focus on outside appearances (what we look like) vs. the real health benefits that occur on the inside.

The good news is, this finally may be beginning to change. Of course it doesn't hurt that President Bush is currently making his push for more Americans to get healthy and active. Kicking off a "fitness festival" on the White House lawn recently, President Bush, 55, joined a field of hundreds for a 3-mile run to convince Americans to take to heart his message that regular exercise is essential to the good health of the person and the nation.

But closer to home, San Diego based IDEA Health & Fitness Association, the world's leading membership organization of health and fitness professionals, with more than 19K members in more than 80 countries, has also recognized there might be a better way to motivate more to get active.

Celebrating their 20th Anniversary with a national conference that brought 5K health and fitness afficianados to San Diego, IDEA awarded key honors to a whole new group of individuals -- those working with older adults. Forget the Aeroba-Bunny exercise concept. Today it's all about helping people be healthy throughout their lives, regardless of age. Frankly the reality is, we're never too old to exercise -- in fact, we're too old not to!

IDEA's highest honor for "Excellence in Program Direction" was awarded to Peggy Buchanan, MA, director of Santa Barbara's first and only fitness and aquatic center at the Vista del Monte retirement community. This award recognizes someone whose outstanding leadership and programming inspires and influences both active and underactive people to commit to healthy lifestyles.

The highest honor for "Excellence in Fitness Instruction" was awarded to Josie Gardiner, 55, who has been involved in the fitness industry for over 30 years, dedicating her life to developing and promoting practical fitness programs for older adults. From starting with chair exercises in the early 1980's, today Josie teaches 150 seniors in group fitness settings and has seven personal training clients over 87. The oldest is 99.

But IDEA didn't stop there. Perhaps the evening's most coveted award, "Inspirational Athlete of the Year," was presented to our very own, Bert Morrow, the 89 year-old world-record hurdler from Escondido, who earlier in the day competed in the local Senior Olympics and won three gold medals in the 80m Hurdles, the 100m Sprint and the 200m Sprint.

You may remember reading about Bert in one of my earlier columns this year when I recapped his amazing story of getting a pacemaker 5 days after spending his 89th birthday hurdling. He walked into Tri-City Hospital with a pulse rate of 30! The doctors were amazed he didn't suffer a heart attack or stroke and definitely credit his healthy lifestyle as the reason.

Proving it's never too late, Bert didn't even run his first hurdle until the age of 69 -- claiming he was a physical wreck in his 40's and 50's. Now he'll tell you he's healthier than ever and his recent pacemaker check up proves the point.

"The technology has evolved so much that we really can help quality of life for people," said Mike Savage, representative for the Guidant pacemaker. "Bert's doing great -- his own heart has been beating 99% of the time, so the pacemaker's there as a back-up and that gives Bert the peace of mind to keep on doing what he loves to do -- hurdling!"

The technology is incredible. They hooked Bert's pacemaker up to a computer and were able to get a daily reading of his heart-rate for the past eight months.

"What were you doing on June 29 at 10:00 a.m. Bert?" Savage asked.

"I was in the starting blocks for my 80m Hurdle race!" Bert answered.

"Well that explains this big change in heart rate we see here on the print-out," Savage said. "And what about May 26 and May 11, what happened then?"

Bert thought for a minute and remembered, "I was competing in track meets in Long Beach and Irvine on those dates, too!"

We were both absolutely amazed at the detail of this test, and equally thrilled that the results confirmed what Bert had been feeling on the inside.

"I've felt great since the surgery, and to know all's well with my ticker too, makes me want to shout from the rooftops just how important it is to eat right and get regular exercise," Bert shared. "I would have been dead otherwise!"

Although Bert is recognized for his unbelieveable hurdling abilities, it is again that outside fitness image that generates the attention. But the real story is how he's been able to achieve these remarkable feats -- what he's done on the inside that's made the real difference.

The world needs more role models like Bert Morrow. Not to go out and run hurdles, necessarily, but to understand the connection between healthy lifestyle choices and vital aging.

It's not a coincidence that in his earlier years Bert was a physical wreck due to his hectic, inactive lifestyle and since turning that around he's now become an impressive specimen of physical fitness, without any of the typical age-related health problems.

It's not even about hurdling, but rather about believing that you're never too old to try something new. Who would have thought that the sport some thought might kill him -- may actually have saved his life?

It's not that he's invincible -- the pacemaker proves that. But it does demonstrate Bert's belief to never give up. Although he had to cut back on his activities during his healing, he never wavered from his goal to hurdle again and it's likely this goal contributed greatly to his recovery.

We can all learn alot from Bert and that's why he received IDEA's "Inspiration" award. By looking at his life from the inside out, rather than just the outside results, we can better understand how what we think and do on the inside first, affects who we are and what we become as the end result people see on the outside. Perhaps this inside out approach will take the fitness industry in a whole new successful direction -- away from emphasizing the outside look, to encouraging people to be active for good health first and foremost.

Kelly Ferrin is a local gerontologist residing in Carlsbad. She is a certified AARP retirement specialist, motivational speaker, consultant, and author of a nationally released book titled, "What's Age Got To Do With It?" For column ideas contact her at (760)438-2126 or on the internet at ageangel@earthlink.net. Kelly Ferrin, Gerontologist Lifestyles (760)438-2126 web: http://www.ageangel.com

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Fitness association recognizes exercise for health's sake.

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