Working Out With Dr. Richard Carmona

If you want to play with your grandkids, says the ex-Surgeon General, you need to get serious about balance, strength training, and cardio

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During a four-year term as U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona was always greeted the same way by President George W. Bush. "He'd say, Did you get your workout in today?'" recalls Carmona, who served from 2002 to '06. Carmona's pet platform was disease prevention, and since exercising is one of the best ways to ward off illness, he knew he had to practice what he preached. So at least five days a week, sometimes very early in the morning or late at night, he would dash off to one of the military bases near his home in Bethesda, Md., to work out.

Carmona, 57, still preaches prevention, but his pulpit is the upscale spa operator Canyon Ranch in Tucson, where he serves as vice-chairman and chief executive of the health division. He spends part of his time reviewing the latest health and science research to make sure the spa incorporates best practices into its programs. He also teaches public health at the University of Arizona in Tucson and serves as president of the nonprofit Canyon Ranch Institute. And he's planning the first symposium that will bring together six Surgeons General. "We'd like to apply our experience to improving the health, security, and safety of all Americans," says Carmona, who spent much of his term trying to influence public policy on secondhand smoke and obesity.

For Carmona, staying fit has been a necessity throughout a career that at times has resembled a superhero's. He was a decorated Green Beret in Vietnam and served on the SWAT team in Tucson, where he became famous for dangling out of a helicopter (to save a victim of a helicopter crash) and for engaging in a shoot-out with a murder suspect. Today his workout involves both a cardiovascular routine and weight training, a combination designed to ward off the ravages of aging, such as heart disease, while strengthening key muscles used for everyday tasks.

Carmona begins with a half-hour of cardio, often on a stationary bike. "It warms up the whole body," he says. Then he moves on to the strengthening part of the routine. Although he does plenty of leg and arm lifts, he says it's especially important to focus on "the core"—the muscles in the abs and back. Many of his exercises combine core strengthening with other muscle movements. For example, he stands on a ball, which forces him to use core muscles to maintain balance, while he works his arms and upper back by pulling cables attached to 60 pounds of weights. "If you want to stay active and play with your grandkids, these are things you need to do," he says.

Carmona finishes with another round of cardio, often on an underwater treadmill in the spa's pool. The machine, which runs on hydraulic power, offers the same cardiovascular benefits as a land-based treadmill, but it doesn't pound the joints. "It's great for people who love to run but have knee, hip, and back injuries. It's like running on the moon," says Carmona, who has endured eight knee surgeries. You can buy an underwater treadmill like those at Canyon Ranch from Ferno Performance Pools for $12,000 to $16,000.

For anyone who finds his workout too punishing, Carmona notes it can easily be scaled down and tailored to individual goals. Consult your doctor, he says, to design a safe routine. What's most important, he insists, is to do something. "Carve out that hour—you can do it."

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