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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Commuter never runs out of gas

How do you keep fit? Visit our discussion board to share health tips, diet secrets and physical activities that help you stay in shape.

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Stephen McCall, a health educator with HMSA, rides to work every day from his home in Kapahulu to his office on Ke'eaumoku Street.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Age: 56

Occupation: Health educator

Home: Kapahulu

Height: 5 feet 9

Weight: 147 pounds

Stays in shape by: Cycling, stretching, occasional running

Sports fantasy: Running the stairs at Universal Studios. "I did that once before. You either make it or you throw up."

Workout habits: Cycles everywhere, including at least 11 miles to and from home every workday (sometimes 32 miles if he teaches class in 'Aiea).

Good and bad foods: "I'm a vegetarian. If it walks, swims or flies, it's safe with me. I'll eat tofu, beans, salads. I will eat cheese occasionally. I like grated pecorino cheese on salad because it's high in omega-3 fatty acids plus it just tastes good. I'm a grazer; if not hungry, don't eat."

Biggest motivator: "I try to maintain my cholesterol numbers, blood sugar, weight, blood pressure, and (body mass index). I try to keep all those things in the anti-morbidity limits."

Advice for people in the same boat: "Don't let up! Keep at it. What I have found is that ultimately it's the aerobic that's king."

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HMSA health educator Stephen McCall says cycling comes naturally for him. He stays in shape by riding to work, sometimes 30 miles a day. He also rides on weekends when there's no particular place to go.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HMSA health educator Stephen McCall has no problem recalling the exact day the fitness light bulb went off in his head.

"I was walking down the street and I saw a friend of mine walking up," McCall says. "He was wearing a bathing suit and his shirt was open."

And ...

"And he had a girl in a bikini on each arm."

McCall, then a teenager in Baltimore, took note of his friend's well-developed chest and abs and concluded: "Gee, I wonder if the six-pack has anything to do with it?"

And while the heavens didn't necessarily part and angels didn't sing, there was something Renaissance-like in McCall's moment of revelation.

"It was like Michelangelo's 'David' walking arm in arm with Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus,' " McCall recalls. "And I wanted to participate."

McCall went home and, as he puts it, "got serious." He bought a Bullworker strength-building device and worked out with all the diligence and intensity of an adolescent with bikini-clad girls in his sights.

"By the time I was 16, I was in pretty good shape," he says. "You could actually see my arms and abs. Unfortunately, I couldn't do anything about my face. I never got (the two girls), but I didn't do too bad."

Indeed, what McCall, 56, didn't immediately realize in itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenies, he has slowly discovered in a life of injury-free good health.

These days it's cycling (complemented by a lot of stretching and a bit of running) that helps McCall maintain his enviable physical condition.

"I've been on the bike since I was 12," he says. "My anatomy is suited to doing something with my legs. It comes to me naturally."

A typical workday finds McCall cycling 11 miles from his Kapahulu home to the Hawaii Medical Service Association Center on Ke'eaumoku Street and back. On those days when McCall teaches his stress-reduction classes in 'Aiea, the mileage jumps to more than 30.

On weekends, when there's no particular place to go, McCall often finds himself riding just for the enjoyment.

McCall cites the usual litany of pedal pluses: big savings on gas, easy parking, fresh air.

But what about all of those negatives?

"There are ways to get around without having to deal with a lot of traffic," McCall says, preemptively. "The weather here is almost always bike-friendly. Even when it's raining, it's not horrendously inconvenient."

But, sniff-sniff, what about all that sweating?

"When you stay active, you may sweat profusely, but it won't stink because you're active. It's really a cleansing thing for your body, and it reminds you to stay hydrated. If you're not going to the bathroom every hour or hour and a half, you're not drinking enough.


McCall comes from sturdy, disease-resistant stock. His grandfather, a smoker, did die of lung cancer, but not until he reached age 89.

The McCalls were literally a nuclear family. McCall's father worked for Westinghouse, supervising a department that built controls for nuclear reactors.

McCall earned a degree in education from what was then Towson State University, then moved to San Diego for additional coursework in anatomy, medical microbiology and other health-related subjects. There, living in a shared household "like hippies" he met his future wife, Irene Kitagawa, a nurse from Hawai'i.

Steve and Irene's twins, Steve and Emily, 20, were conceived during a visit to Hawai'i in 1985 and family moved here a year later.

As a health educator, McCall now teaches a relaxation class that teaches people to master their stress via methods first promoted by Herbert Benson, author of "The Relaxation Response." McCall, a former music major, composed the music (now available on CD) used during the guided relaxation training.

"There's no excuse for being out of shape these days," McCall says. "The stories are out there every day on the covers of USA Today, The Advertiser and other (publications). It comes down to personal responsibility. If you don't want to be healthy, don't. Go back to the pork rinds. But if you take your health seriously, you will have a good outcome."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.