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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009 8 years ago

Aerobic Grandma: Nechtem gains more from exercise than strength


At age 55, Chuck Nechtem has the appearance of what a younger generation might call a “hunk.” He is explicitly muscular, with a physicality more associated with an NFL fullback than with the busy businessman he is. Last year, Nechtem won the push up championship for the over-40 age division at the New York Sports Club — and he looks the part. Intriguing, then, that what differentiates his fitness regime is the elegant psychological dimension.

Nechtem has been active since childhood and claims to have “sprinted out of the womb.” There were athletes in his family, most notably his uncle, the late Saul Nechtem, a legendary sports figure who is in the Boston University Hall of Fame. In high school in his hometown of Chelsea, Mass., Nechtem played baseball, basketball and football. He was also the Greater Boston League’s “Most Valuable” track-and-field athlete, setting records for the 50-meter (5.5 seconds) and 100-meter (10.3 seconds) dashes that still stand.

In college at Bridgewater State, Nechtem concentrated on track and field. And while doing graduate work at Columbia, he was a physical education teacher at a Montessori school during the day and went to school at night.

Today, Nechtem’s fitness program consists of four visits per week to the gym. His home base is the Longboat Key Club’s fitness center, where he typically does 55 to 60 minutes of cardio on the elliptical, plus a half hour of weight work, using the machines and free weights. He uses the rowing machine and jogging to vary his cardio routine, and he and takes one yoga class weekly. He likes golf but doesn’t play “because it takes too long.” When a friend left a tennis racket at his home, Nechtem bought some tennis balls and started playing tennis once every other week. He has a mountain bike that he rides down to Joan M. Durante Park on occasion. And, quick with the quip, he says his only other exercise is “going from the TV to the refrigerator.”

Nechtem’s is a routine routine — sound, well-balanced and fairly conventional. What sets it apart is how he experiences this time and how he defines its value. His goal is not only or even explicitly to gain strength and endurance.

“I see it as a nice way to do something nice for yourself,” he says. “It’s a quiet time for me, very relaxing and I don’t think much at all. It is meditative, even vigorous.”

A frequent traveler who is constantly on airplanes, Nechtem says his workouts keep his energy and endurance up so he doesn’t tire quickly. He does not believe in flu shots but sees gym time as prophylactic, a preventative activity. And while he’s at the gym, he says, “I say hello to people. I don’t know them but it is a community of sharing.”

Nechtem’s focus on exercise as prophylactic rather than therapeutic, relaxing rather than fatiguing, and social/communal rather than solitary, makes sense coming from a man with two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in behavioral sciences. It’s also a fit with his business, Charles Nechtem Associates, which provides EAPs, or Employee Assistance Programs, to more than 5 million employees at more than 1,000 client companies, making it the seventh-largest in its category in the United States, according to Business Insurance magazine. Nechtem is proud of his business, 28 years in the making, but modest about his academic credentials and his push-up prowess.

“I just want to be known as Chuckles,” he says.

In Chuckles’ own words, then: “Work is important to me, but just as important as that is exercise. People don’t really relax enough and let their bodies go. This is hurricane country; if you’re stiff, the wind is going to blow you down. People need to be like a river and flow over and around obstacles. Exercise helps you do that.”

It clearly helps Nechtem do that — and win the occasional push-up competition, as well.

Molly Schechter is an ACE-certified personal trainer, with a specialty in older adult fitness plus YogaFit Instructor Training and a Power Pilates(tm) Mat Certification. She teaches classes at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center. E-mail her at [email protected].



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