Friday, September 4, 2009

Staying fit is Dr. Mendelsohn’s RX for health

Retired anesthesiologist works with weights

Express Staff Writer

Hailey’s Ron Mendelsohn, who’ll be 82 next April, works his shoulders on the Cybex machine during one of his three weekly workout sessions at Blaine County Fitness Center in Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

Take one look at the lean athletic physique of Dr. Ron Mendelsohn, 81, of Hailey and you'll be tempted to ask the simple question: How do you stay so fit at your age?

Mendelsohn's simple answer: "I've never been unfit."

Keeping it simple has always been the foundation of Mendelsohn's fitness regimen. He enjoys resistance training and has a formula that he has followed for many years. It is:

"Wherever I am, I try to exercise for one hour every 48 hours, which comes out to three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday," said Mendelsohn, who tips the scale at a muscular 6-1, 160 pounds.

For 18 years Mendelsohn has spent the summer months in his Hailey Northridge home with his wife of 51 years, Joan. For 15 of those years he has been a member of owner Krista Gehrke's Blaine County Fitness Center in Hailey.

Mendelsohn said Blaine County Fitness' facilities, featuring cardio and weight rooms and Cybex Selectorized equipment, has suited him perfectly.

"It is modestly set up. I don't really need a glitzy 200-machine center to do what I need to do," said Mendelsohn.

A retired anesthesiologist, Mendelsohn said his one hour in every 48 is a rhythm of fitness that is easily achievable wherever he's living. It also gives him a chance to rest and accommodate the stress placed on his muscles, since he tends to work all muscle groups in one day.

"There are many people who work out seven days a week, but they are working different muscle groups on different days. And that's just fine. The main thing is the rest," he said.

Mendelsohn added about his fitness schedule, "Wherever I am, I can do some training. It becomes a routine almost like brushing your teeth. If you do it all the time, you miss not doing it. Older people are like puppies or children. Having the routine keeps me with it."

The positive outcomes of the doctor's devotion to fitness include general good health and energy, and rapid recovery from surgery, he said. Five years ago, Mendelsohn had open heart surgery. He said his fitness level "made my recovery ridiculously rapid."

Mendelsohn said he started weight training in his teenage years while growing up in a lower middle-class family in Baltimore, Md.

Interested in medicine as a career, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy with a bachelor's degree in 1945. He worked as a relief pharmacist on nights and weekends to help work his way through medical school. He graduated with honors from Maryland's School of Medicine graduate program in 1953.

Enlisting in the U.S. Navy, Mendelsohn was stationed in Japan as executive officer of a Marine MASH unit after the Korean War. After a year there he also served in Hawaii and finished his three-year obligation back in Japan working at a Naval Hospital. During this period he took up skin diving as a hobby. He said it helped his cardio-respiratory fitness.

Back in the states, he took up surgical residence in Miami but said he became disenchanted with general surgery and switched to anesthesiology. Mendelsohn accepted a two-year residency in anesthesiology at University Hospital in Baltimore and met wife Joan in the operating room there.

Mendelsohn said "he had a big car and no money," so he and Joan drove down the East Coast to Florida and ended up in St. Thomas, where in 1958 he became the first anesthesiologist in the U.S. Virgin Islands. "A year turned into 25 years and I retired in 1983," he said.

St. Thomas, where he invested in the burgeoning tourist economy, remains the primary residence of the Mendelsohns. They also have homes in Chapel Hill, N.C. and Hailey. Mendelsohn still plays and teaches tennis in St. Thomas and does weight training on his schedule wherever he is.

Joan and Ron raised two daughters in the Virgin Islands. Both now live in the states but have fond memories of growing up on a small Caribbean island. He said an unanticipated but welcome addition to his fitness routine recently has been helping his daughter in Chapel Hill with her 11-year-old triplet sons.

Here in Hailey, Mendelsohn tends to do his stretching early in the morning, after waking up. He does some of his stretching and calisthenics in the hot tub. "Water gives simple resistance," he said. Aqua massage outside in a pool is also good for the joints, he added.

During his one-hour resistance training sessions at Blaine County Fitness Center, Mendelsohn works various muscle groups. He does machine-supported bench presses, sometimes altering the angle of the bench to isolate different areas of the shoulder and chest.

He does flys with dumbbells on the incline bench, and sit-ups on the decline bench to strengthen his abdominal muscles. He works his triceps with curls on the pulley machine. He moves over to the Cybex machines for shoulder and chest work. In all his work, the object is to do the repetitions, he said. If he adds additional sets, he drops the amount of the weight.

"I'm not concerned about pressing hard, since I worry about hurting the joint," he said. "For younger people, the support for joints is much stronger. Older people tend to injure the wrapping support of the joints. Repetitions tend to make the muscles stronger around the joint. And that's generally the rehabilitation process for a knee that you're not going to have surgery on."

"It's so easy to increase things incrementally and see the results."

Blaine County Fitness, located just north of Blaine Manor at 21 E. Maple, has a September special that includes lower rates, longer hours of operation, a child daycare option and new personal trainer, according to owner Krista Gehrke.

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