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Catching Up With 6 Exercise Gurus

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Last month, the Broadway community hosted its 23rd Annual Easter Bonnet Competition to raise funds for AIDS research. One of the celebrity performers was 71-year-old Jane Fonda clad in 1980s-era workout togs. Even though Ms. Jane was not all she appeared to be during her home video heyday, she inspired us to salute some other famous exercise gurus in her honor.

1. Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda had a checkered career once she entered the public eye. She worked as a fashion model before landing her first film role. She gained the reputation as a "sex symbol" after co-starring in the sci-fi spoof Barbarella, and then she used her celebrity to support North Vietnam during that controversial war. Scrambling to get her career back in gear after a barrage of negative press, she worked in a series of "relevant" films, including The China Syndrome. Fonda fractured her foot during the filming, which not only delayed the production, but also curtailed the regular ballet routines she used to keep fit. She discovered the world of aerobic exercise, and soon became its leading proponent.


Her initial Jane Fonda's Workout video sold an unprecedented 17 million copies (mind you, this was at a time when VCRs still retailed for close to $1,000 and were considered a luxury item). Fonda would confess, years after a dozen different versions of her workout had been marketed, that her enviable figure was not strictly due to "feeling the burn" "“ she had suffered from bulimia during that time and had also undergone cosmetic surgery.

2. Richard Simmons

richard-simmons.jpgMilton Teagle "Richard" Simmons was always chunky as a child; when he graduated from high school he weighed 268 lbs. Nevertheless, he'd achieved a small bit of TV success, mostly as the "before" model in yogurt commercials and as a model for "chubby" jeans. When he was warned by a doctor about the medical complications of being overweight he went on an extreme starvation diet, shedding 112 lbs. in three months. As a result, he lost a lot of hair (and later underwent transplants) and his skin sagged (nip and tuck time). But he also decided that there were probably thousands of people just like him who needed to exercise regularly, but were too intimated by the Danskin-clad hardbodies who frequented most commercial gyms. In 1975 he opened Ruffage and the Anatomy Asylum in Beverly Hills, a combination health food restaurant/exercise studio. And while today the fey, cloying Richard Simmons is easy pickings for talk show hosts and stand-up comics, there is no denying that he has encouraged hundreds of thousands of non-Jane Fonda types to get up off of the sofa for the first time and sweat along with him.

3. Debbie Drake

Who was the first woman to don a leotard and host an exercise show on television? Even though it was way back in 1961, the concept wasn't very different than it is today: attractive woman wears a form-fitting outfit and stretches sinuously on camera. Debbie Drake was a blonde, leggy Texan whose 15-minute program, Passport to Beauty, aired at 7:30AM in most markets, and she was popular enough to get housewives to do calisthenics with her at that hour. Her trademark was a long-sleeved leotard with a small white collar, which gave it a touch of modesty.

Drake was a shrewd businesswoman who used a three-pronged attack to capture the exercise market: in addition to her TV show, she published books and released record albums. Her strategy to encourage women to buy her products: "How to keep your husband by way of perfecting your figure." Speaking of figures, Debbie's measured 38 _-22-36, which she emphasized by having her bosom cinched up to her neck during her workout routine.

4. Jack LaLanne

Younger TV viewers may only know him as an infomercial huckster, but Jack LaLanne first gained fame via his TV exercise show that ran for 34 years. LaLanne opened his first gym in 1936, where he encouraged weight training for both men and women and also developed the first leg extension machine. He practiced what he preached; throughout his life he emphasized the importance of eating natural foods ("if man made it, don't eat it") as well as both aerobic and weight-bearing exercises. Some of his exercises may look goofy today (such as this face routine in the videos below), but on the other hand, today's 94-year-old Jack has a face that looks like 30-year-old Jack.

5. Denise Austin

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Denise (Katnich) Austin earned a gymnastics scholarship to the University of Arizona, where she graduated from in 1979 with a degree in exercise physiology. After graduation she started teaching aerobics classes in the L.A. area and was eventually hired to co-host Jack LaLanne's TV show. In 1982 she was offered her own TV fitness show, and her career took off from there. It certainly didn't hurt that she'd married sports attorney Jeff Austin, who also happened to be the brother of tennis pro Tracy Austin. Once fame came knocking at her door, she had an expert in the family ready to advise and guide her.

6. Cynthia Kereluk

Once a part of Lifetime TV's regular morning line-up, Cynthia Kereluk's soft voice was a soothing counterpoint to Denise Austin's raspy growl. Kereluk had a college degree in education (she taught kindergarten before pursuing a career in fitness), and was Miss Canada in 1984. From 1985 until 2000, she hosted the Everyday Workout which was seen in TV markets around the world. Cynthia recently married her long-time love Paul Rodgers, formerly the frontman of Free and Bad Company.

I'm not so naïve to think that all viewers that tune in to exercise shows are doing so strictly for the cardio benefits. After my 70-something father suffered a heart attack, he was instructed by his doctor to engage in daily aerobic activity. To Dad that meant tuning in to a variety of exercise programs and critiquing them from his La-Z-Boy. ("This show is nothing but old broads, no one wants to see that"¦") So "˜fess up "“ which exercise shows do you recall, either because you actually worked out to them, or because you liked the way their leotards rode up"¦?

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Here's How to Tell If You Damaged Your Eyes Watching the Eclipse
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Amid the total solar eclipse craze, experts repeatedly warned spectators not to watch the rare phenomenon on August 21 with their naked eyes. But if you caught a peek sans glasses, pinhole projector, or protective filter, you may be wondering if your peepers were damaged. (After the sky show, "my eyes hurt" spiked as a Google search, so you’re not alone.)

While the sun doesn’t technically harm your eyes any more than usual during a solar eclipse, it can be easier to gaze at the glowing orb when the moon covers it. And looking directly at the sun—even briefly—can damage a spot in the retina called the fovea, which ensures clear central vision. This leads to a condition called solar retinopathy.

You won’t initially feel any pain if your eyes were damaged, as our retinas don’t have  pain receptors. But according to Live Science, symptoms of solar retinopathy can arise within hours (typically around 12 hours after sun exposure), and can include blurred or distorted vision, light sensitivity, a blind spot in one or both eyes, or changes in the way you see color (a condition called chromatopsia).

These symptoms can improve over several months to a year, but some people may experience lingering problems, like a small blind spot in their field of vision. Others may suffer permanent damage.

That said, if you only looked at the sun for a moment, you’re probably fine. “If you look at it for a second or two, nothing will happen," Jacob Chung, chief of ophthalmology at New Jersey's Englewood Hospital, told USA TODAY. "Five seconds, I'm not sure, but 10 seconds is probably too long, and 20 seconds is definitely too long."

However, if you did gaze at the sun for too long and you believe you may have damaged your eyes, get a professional opinion, stat. “Seeing an optometrist is faster than getting to see an ophthalmologist,” Ralph Chou, a professor emeritus of optometry and vision science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada, told NPR. “If there is damage, the optometrist would refer the individual to the ophthalmologist for further assessment and management in any case.”

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New Test Can Differentiate Between Tick-borne Illnesses
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Time is of the essence in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Fortunately, one new test may be able to help. A report on the test was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Ticks and the diseases they carry are on the rise. One 2016 study found deer ticks—the species that carries Lyme disease—in more than half of the counties in the United States.

The two most common tick-borne illnesses in the U.S. are Lyme disease and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). Although their initial symptoms can be the same, they’re caused by different pathogens; Lyme disease comes from infection with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. We don’t know what causes STARI.

"It is extremely important to be able to tell a patient they have Lyme disease as early as possible so they can be treated as quickly as possible," microbiologist and first author Claudia Molins of the CDC said in a statement. "Most Lyme disease infections are successfully treated with a two- to three-week course of oral antibiotics." Infections that aren't treated can lead to fevers, facial paralysis, heart palpitations, nerve pain, arthritis, short-term memory loss, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

But to date, scientists have yet to create an accurate, consistent early test for Lyme disease, which means people must often wait until they’re very ill. And it’s hard to test for the STARI pathogen when we don’t know what it is.

One team of researchers led by experts at Colorado State University was determined to find a better way. They realized that, rather than looking for pathogens, they could look at the way a person’s body responded to the pathogens.

They analyzed blood samples from patients with both early-stage Lyme disease and STARI. Their results showed that while all patients’ immune systems had mounted a response, the nature of that response was different.

"We have found that all of these infections and diseases are associated with an inflammatory response, but the alteration of the immune response, and the metabolic profiles aren't all the same," senior author John Belisle of CSU said.

Two distinct profiles emerged. The team had found physical evidence, or biomarkers, for each illness: a way to tell one disease from another.

Belisle notes that there’s still plenty of work to do.

"The focus of our efforts is to develop a test that has a much greater sensitivity, and maintains that same level of specificity," Belisle said. "We don't want people to receive unnecessary treatment if they don't have Lyme disease, but we want to identify those who have the disease as quickly as possible."

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