- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

No one ever claimed the holidays are the healthiest time of the year.

Sprawling out over a month or so, the holiday season often includes equal measures of frenzied shopping and exhaustive housecleaning to accommodate out-of-town relatives. Many of us counter those activities with late nights out, overeating and binge drinking.

Some post-holiday exercise could do the whole family some good, and even one exercise session is helpful, says Richard Cotton, an exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, based in San Diego.

"There's always a benefit to any kind of physical activity," he says. "It helps you burn calories, and if it's done comfortably, it can actually encourage you to want to come back for more."

Mr. Cotton encourages would-be gym rats to keep it simple at first.

"Keep in mind that you don't have to train for the Olympics in order to optimize your health," he says. "I tell my people to try to do less than you think you're able [to do] because if you always push yourself, especially when you've been used to sitting on the couch, it's going to hurt and cause injury. That's basically discouraging. A habit of comfortable, moderate, consistent activity is the key to realizing most of the benefits of exercise."

Washington area residents can test their exercise mettle at any of these local recreation and exercise centers, where drop-ins are welcome:

• Chinquapin Park Recreation Center, 3210 King St., Alexandria. 703/519-2160. Chinquapin offers swimming in a 25-meter pool, a diving well, saunas, racquet sports and walleyball. Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Public swim times vary. Fee: $5 for Alexandria residents, $8 for nonresidents.

• Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston. 703/476-4500. The community center contains a 25-meter pool, a whirlpool and a 300-square-foot mirrored dance studio. Hours: Public swim times and exercise availability vary widely. Fee: $2 for adult residents of Fairfax County, $1 for youth and senior county residents, $5 for adult nonresidents, $3 for youth and senior nonresidents.

• Watkins Tennis Bubble, 301 Watkins Park Drive, Upper Marlboro, in Watkins Regional Park. 301/218-6877. Five tennis courts are located within an air-inflated, pressurized bubble structure. Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are required. Fee: Court fees range from $15 an hour to $25 an hour, depending on factors such as county residency, day, time and age of player.

•Oak Marr RECenter, 3200 Jermantown Road, Oakton. 703/281-6501. The center includes a heated Olympic-size indoor pool with spa, beach and wading area, plus a diving complex and two racquetball courts, one with walleyball capacity. There's a fitness center with Cybex VR2 equipment, sauna and showers with fully equipped locker rooms. Hours: 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Fee: $5.50 for adult residents of Fairfax County, $3.75 for resident youths ages 5 to 18, and $3.75 for resident adults age 60 and older Monday through Friday; $5.50 on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Nonresidents pay $7.50 daily.

•Thomas Jefferson Community Center, 3501 S. Second St., Arlington. 703/228-5920. The center features an indoor track and a gymnasium with a large variety of equipment. Visitors can attend exercise classes for a $3 fee; classes include muscle conditioning and cardio kickboxing. Hours: 6:25 a.m. to 9:50 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Drop-in fee: $5 for county residents, $8 for nonresidents.

•Montgomery Aquatic Center, 5900 Executive Blvd., Bethesda. 301/68-4211. A water slide is a highlight at this center, which also includes three pools two for laps and a leisure pool with a mushroom waterfall a 5-meter diving platform, an exercise room, sauna and spa. Hours: 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 8:20 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Friday; 8 to 9:30 a.m., 2 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 7:45 p.m. Saturday; 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Fee: $5 for residents of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, $6.50 for all others.

•DCYoga, 1635 Connecticut Ave. NW, fifth floor, in Dupont Circle. 202/232-2926. DCYoga features 75-minute classes taught in a small, colorful studio. Visitors can extend their mental, physical and spiritual boundaries with techniques ranging from astanga to vinyasa to bodhisattva. Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Fee: $15 per class.

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