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Personal trainer offers free sessions to military personnel

Trainer Paul Hanft works with Rayo Steele Naperville his studio Naperville Thursday February 2 2012. Hanft trained woman whose husbis

Trainer Paul Hanft works with Rayo Steele of Naperville at his studio in Naperville on Thursday, February 2, 2012. Hanft trained a woman whose husband is in the military and plans on continuing to train military members and their families free of charge. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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At a Glance

Military personnel and their family members who are interested in receiving free fitness training can contact certified personal trainer, Paul Hanft, at 630-995-3339.

Updated: March 9, 2012 8:12AM

In times of stress, many turn to exercise to relieve pressure and anxiety. Military members and their families are no different. One Naperville fitness trainer hopes to help those who serve our country relieve some of that stress.

“I have always had a strong understanding and gratitude for our veterans and (those) currently serving,” said Hanft whose father is a retired naval commander.

The idea to provide military members and their families free fitness training came to Hanft after meeting Julie MacLean, 36, last year. After losing his job as a teacher, Julie’s husband, Brian, 33, decided to enlist in the military to support his family. Last year, he spent 26 weeks away from home at boot camp followed by advanced training. MacLean was left behind in Woodridge, with two children, ages two and one, and no family nearby for support.

MacLean, still holding on to some excess baby weight, said she was in a “slump” and felt “trapped.” MacLean’s husband encouraged her to find a personal trainer, budgeting for six weeks of workouts. MacLean found Hanft, who decided to train her for a reduced fee. And while she watched the weight come off, MacLean’s outlook also improved.

“I was really down,” MacLean said, “It got me to be able to leave my kids and do something good for myself. It’s been a huge impact on my everyday life.”

Hanft, who trains at facilities in Naperville and Lisle, added, “Aside from exercising and losing weight, she really looked forward to this because it reduced a lot of her stress from being so isolated.”

Lynne Staley, grief educator at the RUAH Center in Naperville, concurs. Staley, who recommends the book “Brain Rules,” by John Medina, says that exercise is proven to be a stress-reliever.

“As researchers discover more about the intricacies of brain function, they are seeing that exercise has a positive impact on our mental health through the release of neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Rigorous exercise can positively impact mood in the short term but especially over time,” Staley said.

MacLean, who has lost 30 pounds, recently rejoined her husband, now stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. But, she continues to train with Hanft from afar. He sends her personalized workouts three times a week, for free, through an online program to help MacLean meet her goal of not being a “supermodel” but living healthy and feeling good.

“(I want to) be there physically, mentally and spiritually for my family,” MacLean said. “And feeling good about yourself is primary to reaching those other goals for me.”

After helping MacLean, Hanft realized there must be others like her. He said that watching veterans coming home to record unemployment, post traumatic stress disorder or depression led him to the decision that he wanted to help as many military families as he could.

“(MacLean is) a normal level-headed stay-at-home mom with two young kids, and it helped her,” Hanft said. “I can’t imagine it couldn’t help others.”

Hanft recognizes that members of the military, who may at first be thrilled to be home, face unstructured days as they try to re-acclimate themselves to day-to-day living. By training them on a set schedule, which he will do free of charge, Hanft says that the workouts can provide needed structure along with the exercise.

“They have somewhere to be, and they’re getting exercise,” Hanft said. “It helps decrease stress and increase their state of mind and gives them a little bit of purpose while they are trying to get the other parts of their lives back together.”

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