February 9, 2015 / 1:28 PM / 3 years ago

Styles differ but U.S. presidents make fitness a priority

U.S. President Barack Obama dribbles the ball past some children while doing some basketball drills, during the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House in Washington, in this April 25, 2011 file photograph.Jim Young/Files

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Whether the request was for a treadmill on Air Force One, an elliptical trainer by the White House pool, or a rower adjacent the Lincoln bedroom, when the Oval Office called, fitness trainer Ted Vickey answered.

As the former executive director of the White House Athletic Center during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Vickey served their fitness demands.

While their styles differed, Vickey said each president made fitness a priority.

“Both Clinton and Bush were big outdoor runners but Clinton would also like to run outside the gates, talking to people,” Vickey recalled. “Bush was a more private exerciser; the elder Bush enjoyed speed golf.”

Although the presidents didn’t use the Athletic Center, which was built for staffers in 1987 under the Reagan Administration, Vickey was familiar with their fitness routines.

Bush used exercise as a way to manage his day, said Vickey, who installed a folding treadmill on Air Force One so the 43rd president could work out on a trip to Colombia.

Vickey also converted a room near the Lincoln bedroom into a fitness center.

“One day the Oval Office called: 'We need you to get us a bike, elliptical and rower, delivered to West Wing and we want it tomorrow,'” Vickey said.

U.S. President Barack Obama does push-ups while playing basketball during the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn in Washington in this April 9, 2012 file photograph.Kevin Lamarque/Files

During Bush's tenure the size of the member-supported White House Athletic Center doubled to over 8000 square feet. Bush encouraged his staffers to work out during their day.

“Center membership increased during his term,” Vickey said.

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Jessica Matthews, senior health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise, said the presidents were wise because research has shown the benefits of exercise for people in high-stress positions, from increasing productivity to avoiding depression and burn out.

“Pilot studies have pointed to reduced stress levels after even a single bout of exercise,” she said.

Vickey, who left the White House in 2005, believes fitness is still a priority for the president.

“I know President Barack Obama is big on basketball,” he said. “He’s obviously a golfer and I know he brought his personal trainer with him from Chicago.”

Now based in California and the head of FitWell LLC, a corporate fitness management company, Vickey said presidents set an example for others to follow.

“If the president of the United States can find an hour in the day to work out, what’s our excuse?” he added.

Editing by Patricia Reaney and Andrew Hay

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