Thirty-five thousand pounds: that’s how much weight participants have lost in the Healthy Charleston Challenge (HCC), an award-winning exercise and nutrition program under the helm of MUSC Wellness Center director Janis Newton, whose career in fitness spans some 40 years. When she started out as an exercise consultant for one of Charleston’s pioneer health clubs in the mid-’70s, “There were no personal trainers, no exercise programs, no aerobics classes,” she says. The fitness world has since seen serious transformation—but Newton’s passion for helping people live healthier lives hasn’t budged.
CM: What’s the Healthy Charleston Challenge?
JN: It’s a 12-week exercise and nutrition intervention program for anyone wanting to improve eating habits, sleep better, reduce stress, increase physical activity, and redefine his or her health. There is a focus on behavior change and long-term sustainability.
CM: How did it get started?
JN: In 2007, I was charged with creating a new program for the Wellness Center. I knew that in order for it to be effective, it would have to include camaraderie, accountability, teamwork, and education along with exercise, nutrition, and stress reduction. I formed a group of trainers, dietitians, and exercise physiologists, and we developed the design.
CM: HCC has won two national awards. What makes it so successful?
JN: There is no finish line. We tell our participants that this is just the start of their journey to a healthy lifestyle—you have to learn to change habits and manage that process. Because of this, many people come back as mentors after their 12 weeks. This keeps them involved and accountable, and it’s a strong component of our success.
CM: Any particular success stories that keep you inspired?
JN: Yes! Many people have lost over 100 pounds and/or normalized their blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. But there are three in particular—they couldn’t walk around the track when they started. They were so self-conscious. Today, they’re fitness instructors teaching Zumba and Tae-Bo. That’s pretty powerful.
CM: Let’s say someone has only 15 to 20 minutes for a workout. What’s the best strategy?
JN: I love 15- and 20-minute workouts! First, I like to run, walk, and do stairs in intervals. I’ll go all out for 30 seconds, and then I’ll recover for 60 seconds. I repeat that sequence for 10 minutes and then do core exercises. There’s also circuit training. Find six really good exercises—like planks, squats, and lunges—and do each one for 60 seconds. Repeat as many times as you can in 15 minutes.
CM: What’s the weirdest fitness fad you can remember?
JN: Vibrator belts. People were like, ”I’ll just shake this fat off my hips!”
CM: Any New Year’s resolutions?
JN: My mother told me, “Keep your life interesting.” Do something new every month. Go to a museum. Always continue to learn!
Bragging rights: At 64, she’s the oldest certified female Tae Bo instructor in the country.
Go-to workouts: Martial arts exercises and stair-climbing
Fave local eateries: Langdon’s, The Wickliffe House, Barony Tavern, and Brown Dog Deli
The next Healthy Charleston Challenge starts January 14; get info at academic www.departments.musc.edu/hsc/programs/challenge.challenge.