UVA Health System Blog

Stories about the patients, staff and services of UVA


Zumba at the Go Girls Support Group: Fun Exercise Gets Teens Moving

On November 27, 2012 | At 9:54 am

It’s been 13 years, but the words “gym class” still strike fear in my heart.Zumba and other dancing makes exercise fun for teens

I hated gym class. I couldn’t do a pull-up or throw a Frisbee. I stood way, way back in the outfield and prayed nobody could hit the ball that far. I faked being sick to get out of volleyball. I counted down the days until I was no longer required to take gym.

I’d been out of high school and sedentary for several years before I realized my lack of coordination and talent didn’t mean I had to be out of shape. Even though nobody was going to beg me to play for their adult soccer league, I could still stay healthy and find support through activities like dance and running.

So I was thrilled to hear about a support group at UVA for adolescent girls who, like me, may not love team sports or school gym class but still need physical activity. The adolescent girls in the Go Girls Support Group meet for an hour every week, but not to just talk about exercise and health. They spend most of their meetings doing Zumba, an aerobic workout that combines many styles of dance and other forms of movement, often with friends and family members who come to support them.

Fun Exercise

Pediatric endocrine specialist and certified Zumba instructor Christine Burt Solorzano, MD, started the group because just telling her patients they needed exercise wasn’t enough. They all knew that, but they weren’t following her advice. And many of them, like me, associated exercise with gym class and team sports.

“There are studies that show if you take girls out of regular gym class and give them a fun alternative gym class where they don’t have to dress out, they don’t have to run the mile, they don’t have to do relays and things like that, that they actually start enjoying exercise more and exercising on their own,” Burt Solorzano says.

Why just girls? Because they get less activity and enjoy exercise less than any other demographic group, Burt Solorzano says. The girls in her group are already reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings; having teen boys there would make that almost impossible.

Investing in Health

Burt Solorzano began doing Zumba about a year and a half ago, when she realized she was telling her patients to find 30 minutes to exercise every day — “and when I looked at my own life, I wasn’t doing it either.”

She didn’t like running but enjoyed dancing. So she tried Zumba and loved it. “I thought, well, if I can do this every day, then I can show other girls that this is fun and do it with them.”

Around that time, UVA introduced its Hoos Well program, which rewards employees for doing health assessments and making lifestyle changes to become healthier.

Burt Solorzano used her reward money to buy Zumba instruction DVDs, which inspired her to begin a class at a local gym and become an instructor. In April, she joined forces with Susan Cluett, CPNP, the program director for the UVA Children’s Fitness Clinic. They launched Go Girls for patients ages 10 to 18 who have insulin resistance or are at risk for it and need to lose weight to get healthy.

Insulin resistance is a condition where the body doesn’t use insulin properly, and Burt Solorzano says a high fat or high calorie diet, lack of exercise and genetics can all contribute. Many Go Girls participants have other related conditions, such as:

The group includes 31 patients and their parents, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors and friends. “Making changes in your life involves having a support group, so if you’re able to bring people who are supportive with you, it can only help your efforts.”

The girls spend about 45 minutes of every meeting doing Zumba. Although Burt Solorzano uses mostly Latin music — otherwise it wouldn’t be Zumba — she also lets the girls pick some of the music. So far, they’ve danced Zumba to Enrique Iglesias’ “I Like It,” Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” among others. They plan to choreograph their own routines for a Pitbull song.

For the rest of the hour, the girls talk with guest speakers about topics such as:

  • Community exercise opportunities and safety
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable intake
  • Teen skin issues
  • Dressing for success
  • The biology of how weight affects girls
  • Building healthy friendships
  • Staying motivated

The girls open up more with each other than they do in one-on-one doctor visits, Burt Solorzano says. “When we talked about building good friendships, they had some pretty specific examples of times when it hadn’t gone so well. They talked about how the situation could have gone better and how to avoid similar negative relationships in the future,” she says. “They’ve started to make it their own group, which is fun, and they’re very accepting of each other.“

Weight Loss: Routine Equals Results

Eight of the girls are participating in a study to see if their health is improving, and two have finished the study. Both lost about 10 pounds and 2-3 inches in waist circumference, Burt Solorzano says. While their blood pressure wasn’t unhealthy to begin with, it went down.

“The best part of the program, the girls say, is the exercise gets them moving,” Burt Solorzano explains. “They really like moving and the dancing, and it’s helped them get into a daily routine.”

That daily routine, Burt Solorzano points out, is one of the most important things about exercising. Doing Zumba once a week in class may not make a huge difference on its own, but it inspires the girls to find other time to exercise.

“It’s all about carving time out for yourself, to make yourself healthy, to de-stress,” Burt Solorzano says, using her own life as an example. “I wake up earlier (to do Zumba), but I have more energy during the day and I sleep better at night. The thing I thought would be terrible isn’t.”

Want to Join?

If you know a girl age 10-18 who could benefit from Go Girls, the first step is to get a referral from a UVA pediatrician. To make an appointment:

Go Girls meets weekly on Thursdays from 5:30-6:30 pm at the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center therapeutic recreation gym. It restarts Jan. 10 after a short break for the holidays.


Gym Woes? 10-Minute Office Workouts Shed Pounds

On February 21, 2012 | At 1:30 pm

If you work a desk job, you know the feeling: You get off work on a cold, dark winter evening, and the last thing you feel like doing is going to the gym.

But you sit down most of the day. And we all know — if you don’t exercise, you’ll run the risk of having:

  • Weight gain
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Some cancers

What’s an office worker to do?

Exercise at Your Desk

“Our bodies are made to move, and the more opportunity we give them to do that, the happier they are,” says Jolene Bodily, a registered dietitian at UVA-WorkMed, a UVA occupational medicine clinic that teaches working people about health, exercise and nutrition.

WorkMed’s goal? To get you out of your seat during the day. How?

With “sparks,” 10-minute bursts of exercise that can get and keep you fit. Yes, you can do these sparks in professional attire within the confines of a cubicle. In fact, sometimes your desk becomes a push-up aid, and your chair, an abdominal crunch station.

Workouts at Work: Do They Work?

Yes. Evidence shows 150 minutes of exercise a week can reduce your risk of heart disease.

The research behind sparks began at UVA about 12 years ago. Exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser realized many people didn’t have the time or motivation to do intense workouts for long periods of time several times a week. He recruited UVA employees for a study looking at the benefits of doing strength, aerobic and flexibility exercises in 15 10-minute chunks weekly.

Gaesser’s results? His subjects lost weight and improved flexibility and endurance.

“They saw impressive results in as little as three weeks,” Bodily says. “Our classes with these 10-minute sparks are modeled on his research, and we see the same results … as long as people do enough of them and do them to a level of intensity that is making their body really work.

“You don’t need to change clothes,” Bodily continues. “You don’t need special equipment. And you don’t need more than 10 minutes.”

Success: Climbing to the Top of Scott Stadium

Bodily remembers one student who didn’t lose as much weight during the six-week class as she’d hoped, although she saw improvements in strength and flexibility. But she did discover progress when she went to a UVA football game in Scott Stadium.

“She said, ‘We have season tickets, we go to every game, and we are in the very top of the top bleachers. For the first time ever, I did not have to stop and breathe on my way to the top.’ And she was ecstatic,” Bodily recalls. “The whole class broke into applause. She found there was a way to measure success that couldn’t be seen on a scale or a blood pressure cuff.”

Another success story involved a husband and wife taking the class together. Both were obese and struggled with the fitness tests they took before the class began, particularly one part that required stepping up and down for three minutes.

“The husband was just drained,” Bodily says. “I was concerned that he would choose to not come back to the classes. … But he persevered, and he and his wife attended every single class.

“At the end of the course, he came in for the follow-up fitness test with this big grin on his face. He marched up to the step test. He did the whole thing with a smile on his face. And as he finished, he was, again, exhausted. But he said, ‘I feel so much better than when I did this four weeks ago. It has made a huge difference in my life. Just knowing that I can do this now, when I could barely do it before, in only four weeks, lets me know I can do anything I set my mind to.’”

Office Workouts at Work: See for Yourself

You don’t have to work at UVA to learn sparks and other ways to stay healthy. WorkMed contracts with other Charlottesville-area organizations and can teach exercise and nutrition classes or set up programs for employees. Learn more and get contact information.

Don’t live in Charlottesville? You can buy Gaesser’s book, “The Spark: The Revolutionary New Plan to Get Fit and Lose Weight — 10 Minutes at a Time,” on Amazon.

Check out these workouts for some step-by-step spark instructions:

Before you start an office workout: Bodily urges anyone starting a new exercise program to check with a doctor first.  She offers a couple of tips for playing it safe and maximizing fitness and weight loss:

  • Walking is safe for most people — but get a good pair of walking shoes.
  • Pay attention to your body. If something hurts, stop and try another exercise.
  • Focus on strength training, which increases calorie-burning muscle mass and helps your metabolic rate stay high.

Enter the Contest!

Have you tried exercising in your office or getting a workout through sparks? Tell us what works for you for a chance to win great prizes.