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Empty nesters rediscover rewards of an active lifestyle

May 22, 2014

When Jonathan Giles and Karen Steinour found themselves with an empty nest and extra time on their hands, exercise became a way to fill the gap.

Over the course of their 26-year marriage, Jonathan Giles and Karen Steinour have had their “lazy” phases. Morning exercise classes and weekend runs took a backseat once their daughter arrived and careers became more demanding. “We’ve definitely had our ups and downs with exercise,” says Karen.

But when the couple found themselves with an empty nest and extra time on their hands, exercise became a way to fill the gap. “Now that our daughter is away at college, and we’re no longer going to field hockey games and other after-school activities, we have more time in the evenings to do something productive and meaningful,” says Karen.

Jonathan, 60, and Karen, 59, have been regulars at the Duke Health and Fitness Center for the past three years. Five to six days each week, Karen attends group classes, while Jonathan runs the track or lifts weights. “This is something we do together,” says Jonathan. “We use each other as motivators, we encourage each other, and we laugh a lot.”

With each other to lean on and a highly trained Fitness Center staff to turn to for support, Karen and Jonathan have made tremendous strides in improving their health. They’ve each lost approximately 60 pounds, and now have more energy to do the things they enjoy.

“We were worried when we first joined that the staff might take it easy on us because we are older,” says Karen. “But they encourage you to listen to your own body and they push you to do as much as you can do.”

Karen is not one to back down from a challenge. In fact, she’s won several of the regular fitness contests hosted by the Center, from weight loss challenges to aerobic endurance tests, individual and team competitions. “I really enjoy the camaraderie and the challenges help me stay motivated,” she says.

For Jonathan, the motivation came when he returned to a sport he loved. “I had always enjoyed running, but had stopped for 20 years,” says Jonathan. "I could barely do one lap indoors when we started going to the Center.”

He decided to make a 5K his fitness goal, and he went to the exercise physiologists at the Fitness Center for guidance. “I enjoyed being able to walk up to them and ask them for advice, to talk about any issues I may be having or discuss strategy for a race,” he says.

It turned out, the 5K was just a warm-up for Jonathan. “After I ran the Chicago Marathon, my daughter said I should try the ‘big six’,” he says. “So I will run the New York City Marathon this fall and have qualified for Boston next spring. After that, it’s onward to London, Berlin and Tokyo – we’ll see!”

One thing is certain: Jonathan and Karen won’t be reverting back to “lazy” again anytime soon. “We are now religious about exercise,” says Karen. “We have a routine, we enjoy it and we miss it when we don’t go.”

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