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Staying fit while keeping busy

It’s not easy to combine exercise and a career. Here are a few tips.

If you want something done," the adage goes, "give it to a busy person." Busy, successful people are granted no more time in a day than the rest of us, but they make time for what they regard as important, and that includes regular exercise.

They regard daily exercise not as a frill or luxury or dispensable option, but as something essential to their well-being and their ability to perform at optimal capacity. Exercise helps them stay engaged in their work, and because they're engaged in their work, they love life and want to extend it as long as possible. Paradoxically, the benign stress of exercise makes them more durable, increasing the odds that they will enjoy their biblical allotment of three score years and 10, and then some.

"At age 40, I realized I was maybe at the halfway mark, and I began thinking about mortality," says orthopedic surgeon Dick Rothman. "I don't believe in life after death, so I got serious about fitness because I want to enhance my life in the here and now, both qualitatively and quantitatively."

Here, three prominent, busy people from the Philadelphia area talk about what fitness means to them, what they do to care for and maintain their bodies, and how they achieve a sense of physical and mental health.

Mayor Nutter

Mayor Nutter describes his job as playing "three-dimensional chess in the dark."

"The reality is, time is never your friend," he says. "This job is about making the call."

Then there is his schedule: 16 to 18 hours a day, six or seven days a week. Plenty of meetings and preparatory reading. Countless speeches and public appearances, as many as 15 to 18 daily events.

"It's as much a physical job as a mental job," Nutter says. "I can't be tired. I've got to be on all the time. I don't have the luxury of feeling moody. So it's important to stay in shape."

Two to three mornings a week, he works out at the 12th Street Gym. Those sessions are marked on his calendar, and his staff knows to treat them as a high priority.

"If a session gets moved, it has to be replaced," Nutter says. "This is an appointment like any other, and I have to keep that appointment."

His normal schedule is to concentrate on his upper body on Mondays and Fridays, and his legs on Saturdays, using free weights and machines. Depending on his schedule, the workouts last from 35 minutes to an hour, under the tutelage of his personal trainer, Dan Parvu, 32, a personable native of Romania whose lean physique is a persuasive advertisement.

On a recent Saturday, I watched as Parvu led the mayor through his weekly leg exercises. "He's going to be suffering today," Parvu promised.

Nutter warmed up with leg extensions, then began with power squats with a barbell on his shoulders, single-leg leg presses, and quad-burning free squats with resistance provided by body weight. He was given little rest between each exercise, only enough time to catch his breath and take a swig of water.

Nutter repeated the circuit three times, in super-set fashion. Each time he performed an exercise, the weight got higher, the number of reps lower. For instance, Nutter began power squatting with 115 pounds, 15 times, and by the end of the session was power-squatting 205 pounds 10 times. Gasping for breath at one point, his arms draped over a machine in exhaustion, Nutter facetiously muttered, "I hate him."

Parvu parried with a compliment: "When he comes here, he gives me 100 percent. He puts as much into his gym time as he does running the city. Sometimes he doesn't like me much, but that's my job."

There was more to come: walking lunges with dumbbells ("good for the abs, core, and back," Parvu said), and calf raises with 200 pounds.

Afterward, winded and gleaming with sweat, Nutter basked in the euphoria of what he called "a good hurt."

Nutter, 54, began lifting weights when he was a teenager and playing football at St. Joseph's Prep. During the 1990s, he visited the gym sporadically. In 2004, he began exercising more seriously and consistently.

"I'm not going to the Olympics or doing a triathlon," says Nutter, who confesses to "a constant struggle for the middle."

"I'm not trying to become super-buff or look like a guy who just stepped out of GQ. I just want to be physically fit and maintain good muscle tone."

Parvu says of his client: "He's a perfectionist, especially when it comes to exercise. He has the best form of all my clients, and he works out hard. As busy as he is, he still makes the time to be here three times a week."

On intervening days, Nutter, on his own, tries to exercise aerobically on a treadmill and spinning bike.

Nutter compares his workouts to "a reboot" and "a recharging that keeps me sharp." Exercise helps keep his disposition level, he says. "I never get too high and I never get too low. It helps me get rid of stuff, and I think about things in a different way. When I'm here, we're lifting, we're moving. It's 45 minutes to an hour of total peace, other than Dan trying to kick my ass."

After his workouts, Nutter, energized by an endorphin-inspired insight, will sometimes pull out his BlackBerry and make notes to himself.

Nutter quit eating red meat and pork in 1977 when he was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He eats fish and fowl, Greek yogurt, and plenty of fruit and vegetables, such as collard greens, raw spinach, and broccoli.

"There's nothing worse than an old, fat, bald politician," says Nutter.

"Two of those I can't do anything about, but I can do something about my weight through a combination of exercise and a reasonable diet."

Risa Vetri Ferman

Risa Vetri Ferman, the district attorney of Montgomery County, never knows what her workday may bring. "There's no typical day," says Ferman, who was elected to a second term in November. "That's one of the things that makes the job so exciting, and stressful."

Her fitness regimen is also subject to change. "My routine is that I don't have a routine," says Ferman. "Every day is different. For me, the nonroutine keeps it interesting and keeps me going."

The one constant in her life is that her alarm goes off every morning at 5:18. Some days, when she's especially tired, she may doze an extra hour. But other days, she hops out of bed and goes to the basement of her Abington home. There, she may do cardio work - anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes - on a treadmill, an elliptical trainer, or a spinning bike, while channel surfing and watching the news. Or, she may do a series of stretches and yoga poses.

She doesn't run, but instead walks on the treadmill with the deck pitched at a steep incline. She's fond of the motion of the elliptical trainer and the fact that it involves no impact.

"I mix it up," Ferman says. "I do whatever I feel like my body needs at a particular point in time." Sometimes, because of her schedule, that means exercising in the evening after dinner.

A couple times a week, she lifts weights in a small gym in the garage. She primarily uses dumbbells to strengthen her back and shoulders. For a while, she exercised with kettle bells, but one day, while holding a couple of kettle bells, she performed lunges so aggressively that she tore the meniscus in her left knee, an injury that required surgery.

"Weightlifting makes a difference," Ferman says. "It really does."

Ferman was introduced to weightlifting when she was in high school and began showing up at a hard-core bodybuilding gym in Jenkintown.

"The men treated me beautifully," she recalls. "Everyone was a gentleman." She was already inclined to be physically active because of the example of her parents, who played tennis and skied. Her mother, Barbara, still does plenty of stretching and walking.

On the weekends, Ferman devotes more time to exercise. She often visits a hot yoga class. Come warmer weather, she enjoys her favorite exercise - cycling with her husband, Michael. On her Cannondale road bike, she and Michael may ride from 30 to 45 miles at a pop, often on the Schuylkill River Trail. She became enamored of cycling late in life, and now it has become a passion.

"What I love most about biking is being outside," Ferman says. "It's not just physically invigorating but also gives me a sense of freedom. It's a place where I can clear my head."

Her weekend cycling workouts also have a purpose: training for the Tour de Shore, a 65-mile ride in July from the Irish Pub in Philadelphia to the Irish Pub in Atlantic City, which raises money for police charities. (The name of the team from the Montco D.A.'s Office: Wheels of Justice.)

Ferman, 46, has a trim figure but she's no fitness poster girl, nor does she aspire to be.

"As far as my body is concerned, I'm in a place of Zen," she says. "This is what I have, and it's good. For me, exercise is about being fit for life. I like how it makes me feel. I can work better, play better, look better."

She adds: "I try to exercise enough and watch what I eat enough so that I can eat chocolate whenever I want."

Speaking of diets, her husband and two of her three teenage children recently voted to become vegetarians.

"I'm a team player," Ferman says, "so I'm dutifully learning how to prepare vegetarian meals, but I've been known to grab a handful of corned beef now and then."

Richard Rothman

"Exercise is the fountain of youth," declares orthopedic surgeon Richard Rothman. "Ponce de Leon was wrong. It's not some place in Florida; it's in the gym."

Rothman, 75, exercises seven days a week. For him, it's not an option but a regular part of his daily hygiene, like showering and brushing his teeth.

"Time is our nonrenewable resource," Rothman says. "Everybody wants to be immortal. That's a huge, huge priority, more important than making money and becoming famous - giving yourself more time to enjoy the world and life. And the key to that is fitness."

Fitness is also essential to his professional life. The founder of the Rothman Institute of Thomas Jefferson University, he still teaches and performs surgery - eight hip and knee replacements a day, three days a week. He rises at 5 a.m. and is in the operating room by 6 a.m.

"I'm like a laborer," Rothman says. "I work hard physically. My typical day is 12 hours, and I may have to operate six to eight hours of those 12, so if I'm going to do it well and continue to do it, I've got to take care of my machinery."

His favorite activity is running outdoors, often with some of his partners, anywhere from two to five miles a day. From ages 40 to 65, he ran a marathon every year. Participating in the Marine Corps Marathon was a yearly bonding ritual for him and his staff.

"We are like deer," Rothman says. "We're made to run."

His next favorite activity is climbing mountains in Colorado, where he had a vacation home. He also enjoys brisk walks with his wife, Marsha, sometimes on the beach at Margate, N.J.

During winter and less clement weather, his typical routine is to use the exercise equipment in the physical-therapy facility one floor above his office or at a gym near his Society Hill residence. He does 20 to 30 minutes of running on a treadmill or stair-climbing machine (diverting himself by watching the news), then 10 minutes of weightlifting, hitting all the muscle groups. He uses machines for exercising larger muscles, dumbbells for smaller muscles.

"I'm not trying to look like Charles Atlas," Rothman says. "I want to feel well-toned and functional."

He concludes his daily regimen with intense stretching. And two times a week, a yoga instructor visits his office and leads him through a program of poses.

"The intense stretching releases endorphins and gives me a sense of well-being," Rothman says. "It makes you not only flexible but also euphoric."

In his workouts, he addresses the four pillars of effective exercise: aerobics; strength training; stretching and flexibility; and balance.

"I earn my dinner by going up and working out for an hour before I go home," Rothman says.

His strict habit of exercising every day is rooted in science. Daily aerobic exercise, he says, depletes catecholamines - stress hormones such as epinephrine - that at high levels can wreak havoc with the cardiovascular system, possibly provoking a fatal arrhythmia.

Nutritionally, Rothman tries to "go light on red meat, fat, and salt." He takes such supplements as fish-oil capsules, B-complex vitamins, glucosamine and chondroitin, and a daily baby aspirin. The key to staying slender, he says, is portion control and limiting caloric intake.

Rothman also appreciates the mood-elevating power of physical activity.

"Depression is rampant in our society," he says, "and there really is no better antidepressant than vigorous exercise."

Many high achievers are manic-depressives who keep Winston Churchill's "Black Dog" at bay through hard work. Rothman, who doesn't view himself as depressive, admits being "very productive." He invented an artificial hip, has written 14 textbooks and 250 papers, and has grown the Rothman Institute, which has 14 clinics and handles 23,000 operations and 320,000 office visits a year. It is, he says, the world's largest orthopedic practice.

"To me, retirement would be a punishment," Rothman says. "My work is my love. I want to work in the morning and die in the afternoon. I think that's the ideal life, and that's the example I try to set."