The world is full of Baby Boomer couch potatoes, caught in sedentary jobs behind computer screens, who have thought long and hard about making some positive changes in their lives. And what better way to become fit than to serve as a guide and model for others yearning to slim down, trim up, and brim over with energy.

“It’s a fun job where you can do a lot of good for other people while doing a lot of good for yourself,” says Kaz Aoyagi, a part-time personal trainer and teacher, a full-time professional at an area pharmaceutical company, and an all-the-time go-getter. “Being physically fit has made me 300 percent more active and productive,” she says. “I am much more fit now at the age of 54 than I was when I was 23.”

An instructor with the World Instructor Training School (WITS), Aoyagi teaches “Personal Training Certification,” a five-week course beginning on Sunday, July 9, at 10 a.m. at Mercer County Community College. It covers such varied topics as exercise physiology, anatomy, kinesiology, nutrition, cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, special populations, musculoskeletal injuries, and legal guidelines. The full-day sessions lead up to a national personal trainers’ certification exam. This is followed by a 20-hour working internship with a certified trainer. Cost: $600. Call 609-586-4800 for more information.

Personal trainer is fast becoming one of the hot professions of the new millennium with a national average pay of over $25 per hour according to a recent ABC News story. But contrary to popular assumptions, it is not just a job for the young and beautiful. “It’s really almost never too late to become certified as a personal trainer,” says Aoyagi, who has been a personal trainer for over a decade and an instructor for the past four years. “I regularly have students in my classes who range in age from 20-something through 60-something. They can feel the difference in their lives right away.”

Being a good role model is a part of Aoyagi’s job as a personal trainer. Being physically fit is a way of life that has kept Aoyagi feeling young and vital beyond her years. “I’ve run in the New York Marathon,” she says. “I’ve taught aerobics. I exercise every day. I run. I work at a full-time job and exceed my boss’s expectations. I have the energy to train other clients. I have time to study. When teaching courses I find that I have tons of energy. So when my clients try to tell me how busy they are, that they have no time for exercise, even though they may be half my age, I say, ‘wait a minute, you have no excuse.’”

Born and raised in Tokyo, Aoyagi earned her undergraduate degree in Japan before moving to the United States in her late 20s. “I was a nerd until I was about 28 years old because in Japan young women were not raised to be physically active,” she says. “But when I moved here I became more athletic.”

Since earning her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in the 1980s, Aoyagi has worked full-time doing research in genetic molecular biology. She is director for a company that helps pharmaceutical firms develop new drugs for the health service industry. In addition she is teaching exercise biochemistry at Rutgers and is taking courses in nutrition at Rutgers.

“I want to combine nutrition and exercising,” she says. “Many people exercise but still manage to ignore their nutrition. If you exercise and eat garbage you are going to die quickly.”

An American citizen for the past 10 years, Aoyagi, a West Windsor resident, has a 34-year-old daughter. She says that about 90 percent of the students who take her course do it in order to become employed as a personal trainer; working either in health clubs, gyms, or sometimes going to clients’ homes or businesses. The remaining 10 percent simply want to improve their own workouts.

“It’s interesting to see how much it means to people when they make the decision to improve their health, “ she says. “Having the opportunity to share that with other people in the work that you do is intrinsically rewarding in and of itself.”

The growing popularity of health clubs and higher end gyms has created an environment in which a personal trainer must know her (or his) stuff. This is a somewhat new development in the profession. “The certification industry has changed over the years,” says Aoyagi. “In the past you could have gotten along with just paying $32 and getting a certification that way, but the quality doesn’t compare to what it is today. When you go to Bally’s, Gold’s Gym, or other better gyms, you expect better trainers and that is what you will get.”

Aoyagi earns enough income for her needs from her full-time work in the pharmaceutical industry. She does her training for other reasons. “I like the feeling of helping people on a daily basis and making a difference in their lives,” she says. “I do personal training more for satisfaction. I think that is very true for many in the Baby Boomer generation. Most of us have the money to enjoy our life after retirement. We want to live our lives for other reasons than money. We want to do work that is enriching in other ways. We also want to stay fit and healthy for as long as we can.”

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