Christine Conti recently sat down with us to discuss her new title of America’s Favorite Medical Fitness Trainer. In this conversation, we dive into what Medical Fitness is, dispel some common misconceptions about arthritis, and dive into her story.
Get ready to be inspired—and ready to move after hearing from Christine!
Q: Christine, first, congratulations. You are America’s Favorite Medical Wellness Instructor. What does that mean to you?
I am super honored, thank you so much. It’s wonderful to know that you may be making a difference in other people’s lives that may not always feel that they can do it or feel as though they want to do it. That is what’s important.
For me, I was diagnosed over a decade ago with advanced autoimmune disease; I’ve been in and out of chemo a couple of times and made a lot of lifestyle changes over the years with fitness, nutrition, sleep—you name it. My goal is to help others feel they can keep going. It makes me happy to be able to reach more people on such an awesome platform. I’m excited!
Q: I’d love to chat about how you got here since you’ve been in fitness your whole life. Would you please share some of your story?
I grew up in New York, lived on the South Shore of Long Island, and volleyball was my big sport. I was very blessed to be able to travel the world and train with some national teams. I played in college at a pretty high level and that was always a part of my life.
Movement and wellness were important to me. I then went off and was an investment banker in New York City for a little bit and then quickly realized that being behind a desk is not what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do more, and I wound up going to get my master’s in education, focusing on teaching, English, and business. I wanted to teach, and I knew if I could teach, I could coach. There was always something driving me behind movement, but I was always told growing up that, no, you had to have a different type of job.
Fitness was a side hustle, a hobby. It wasn’t a full-time thing. And then I loved fitness so much that even when I was in graduate school, I got certified in almost everything; from Zumba to Pilates, to kickboxing, you name it.
I love learning and I love teaching and I love movement and how it made people feel. Fast forward now and I’ve been in the fitness industry presenting, attending conferences, and writing programming for about 20 years. But it wasn’t until I got diagnosed about 10 years ago that I was like, “What am I doing? I’m lying to myself.” Yes, I have this stable job, and I’m supposed to be so fulfilled, but every day I would sit there and say, “Christine, get out of the car,” and I knew that there was a place where I could make a bigger difference.
I used my own diagnosis to say, “All right, well, I’m going to be an experiment of one. I’m going to get as much information and research from the top doctors and fitness professionals and exercise scientists in the world because I happen to know them because I’ve been in the fitness industry.”
It was amazing for me to be able to get all this knowledge and then start teaching it to other people. That is really my love right now. My niche is medical fitness, and it’s going to be coming out officially that I just took a position with the MedFit Network and Education Foundation to make a bigger impact.
But that’s what led to the creation of the Arthritis Fitness Specialist Course, which I authored last year during the pandemic. I was like, “Well, no better time than to get your nose in the books and try and help more people.” So that’s how I got into this and three years ago, I decided, you know, what? Teaching was great. I resigned from that stable job with the pension and decided life is more important than just a stable paycheck. It’s about relationships and if you follow your heart, the money will follow you.
Burnalong is a great platform for more people to be exposed to maybe my arthritis classes and a lot of the research I’ve done. I can get it out to more people and the masses.
Q: There are a lot of misconceptions about what arthritis is, what people with arthritis are capable of doing, and really what they should be doing. There is this sort of bias towards inactivity so let’s talk about what it means to move with arthritis. What do you tell people who have arthritis?
First, arthritis is different for everyone. And many people look at me and they’re like, “You don’t know what I’m going through.” And I’m like, “You’re right. I don’t know what you’re going through because everyone is different. And you don’t know what I’m going through.”
The way that I found out I had something going on is that I kept dropping glasses. I couldn’t pick up pots. My husband had this beautiful stein he got when he traveled through Europe from Germany, and I broke it. I realized I just couldn’t hold things.
Calcium builds up. You get issues with the joints. It’s painful. But that is not really what we’re talking about here.
There are millions and millions of people in the United States and beyond who are diagnosed with arthritis every year. Arthritis is not just osteoarthritis. It is an autoimmune disease. People don’t know that lupus is a type of arthritis; plus, there’s septic arthritis, juvenile arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis. The list goes on.
What you must remember is that arthritis can attack all your major muscles or major joints in your body. I always think of it as having stormtroopers inside your body and what they’re trying to do hit all the inflammation with lasers.
What happens with arthritis is that the stormtroopers get confused with autoimmune issues, and they’re not only shooting the bad things, they’re shooting the good things too. Your body attacks itself.
You wake up and your fingers are swollen and your hip is hurt. Some people, it affects their feet, some people it’s the hands, some people it is the neck.
But it always has something to do with inflammation. And when I talk about this, it is a disease it isn’t something that you did to cause this. You may have a flare-up, which is when you do get very painfully swollen in certain joints, but this is something that not only affects your joints but also your internal organs.
It could be your liver, your kidneys—nothing is off-limits with this. And some days, people with various forms of arthritis may feel great and can go on a run. The next day, they’re incapacitated and in so much pain they can barely move. It’s a fascinating disease, but it’s something that doesn’t appear the same in every person.
It is something that must be managed. Some people do it with medications. And I’m not against Western medication, you have to go to the doctor. You’ve got to get your blood test. You’ve got to see what’s going on. You’ve got to see what damage is done from your body destroying its own joints.
But I focus on what we can do. Can we get more sleep? Can you get better hydration? What’s your diet like? Are you eating more of a Mediterranean diet with your fruits, your vegetables, your olive oils, and your fish? And are you moving?
The worst thing that you can possibly do for arthritis, is nothing.
I have an amazing specialist in New Jersey who once said to me, “Christine, the second you stop moving, it’s all over.” And I took that to heart. That was 10 years ago. That has been the most important thing that you can do.
You’ll either end up sitting down being uncomfortable, or you’re moving and you’re uncomfortable. Choose movement.
Q: What I’ve seen is that after you are an athlete, you need to fill in this gap that is made when you stop. For a lot of athletes, just being to continue moving is a lot like momentum. One thing that I see about your classes is that people say they leave energized and feeling more mobile. How do you keep going? What are the things you’re telling people to do?
The most important thing is, number one, you can do anything with your body. We talk all the time about how important it is to be strong with your muscles and your balance and your flexibility. That’s all great. That’s fantastic, but what’s the most important thing? It is your mindset.
My favorite person, Wonder Woman has a quote that goes like this, “In life, you have two choices, do something or do nothing. Always choose something.”
If you’re going to choose something, you have to have that confidence and commit to doing it. Whenever I talk and whenever I teach classes or think about medical fitness, it starts with the mind. We trip over ourselves all the time.
It starts with small little things, and you start to think you can do it. Fitness doesn’t have to be torture; it can be enjoyable. We’re going to make it doable. It’s about adding quality to your years and not just years to your life.
Q: One of the things I find interesting is the trainers that trainers have had. So what have the trainers that you’ve had in your life? How have they shaped you? What have they meant to you?
There’s two parts to this. I grew up playing very competitively at a very young age. We didn’t have the knowledge of exercise science, the knowledge of kinesiology, and overuse that we do today. I had some great coaches, great mentors, great role models, and really high-level. But they didn’t have the knowledge that we have today of what you should be doing, how you should be eating, how you should be stretching and recovering.
One of the greatest takeaways from having such intense coaching was that they did so much to prepare me mentally for anything. That mindset of “Yes, you can! Be determined; you can be down and not give up.” They taught me that mindset is number one.
The second part of this is that I know going forward, even with coaching and training, that this isn’t life or death. Losing is not the end of the world.
It’s that whole idea of your mindset. Is it a finite mindset, or is it an infinite mindset? Am I training just to win this one game or be active for only a certain amount of time? Or am I trying to keep myself healthy and well for a lifetime?
Whatever someone’s goals are, I want them to be happy, living quality years. That is why we work on a lot of function and mobility. And no matter what their goal is, I still want it to be not surgery for as long as we can.
Q: For those who aren’t familiar with MedFit, they are a network of medical fitness professionals. Could you explain a little bit about what medical fitness is?
I would say even 10 years ago, this was really up and coming. At this point, with our culture, our lifespans, the pandemic, if you’re not thinking about taking care of your health I don’t even know what to say. I’ve never used the word comorbidity more in my whole life than I have in the last couple of years.
Medical fitness was a response to the many chronic conditions and diseases that keep increasing in frequency—things like obesity, diabetes, cancer, you name it. And doctors are reactive and give medication to address these things. I’m totally for Western medicine when it is needed. It saves lives; that’s science. But what are we actually doing to reduce the occurrence of those diseases?
You lose weight and guess what? Suddenly, your arthritis doesn’t bother you as much. You’re not carrying an extra 50 pounds on your knees and your hips. You’re less risk for a heart attack.
The MedFit Network is trying to bridge the gap between fitness professionals and medical professionals. The doctors are saying, “Hey, we’re not trained in fitness. We know you’re supposed to work out. We know we need you to exercise.” They can’t write scripts for exercise, yet.
To help connect people who need specialists, MedFit Network has a database. Based on your medical issue and your location, you can look for specialists through the MedFit Network.
In addition, we do is a lot of different webinars. There’s a lot of education involved in it as well, from top fitness professionals and medical professionals to further educate you on what you can be doing to take control of your health. It’s just a lot of resources for just the average person, and also for a fitness professional to be involved as well.
Q: Virtual programming is something that obviously in the last year and a half has grown leaps and bounds. When did you start looking at virtual as a means of being able to connect with new people?
When I resigned from teaching, I knew I wanted to be part of a change for people in the health and wellness sector. One of the things I noticed at all these conferences was that there were great programs but people didn’t have a way of accessing them. People didn’t know about their classes and the program didn’t have millions of dollars for marketing.
So I knew there had to be online platforms; there had to be a way. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a maverick and set up a company like Burnalong. That wasn’t my cup of tea, however, I knew that podcasting was up and coming. I had a good friend who is also an endurance athlete and I said, “You know what? I’d love to start on a podcast to really give people a voice, to help people network, people that want some inspiration, and fitness wellness.”
And we started a podcast called Two Fit Crazies and a Microphone. Health, fitness, nutrition, wellness. You name it. Top people from all over the world that I’ve met, come on and talk, and that is honestly how I started getting the wheels turning about, wow, you know what? There’s something bigger here.
Once everything shut down, I had just launched a new program called “Let’s Face It Together” which is facial exercise rehabilitation. Also, another program called “Fall Proof” is fall prevention. I thought I was going to be live in all these places and then everything shut down. And I’m like, “You know what? Let’s see if I could use Zoom, and maybe I’ll start doing my certifications via Zoom, see if it works.”
Things shut down in March. I did my first one in April, and I’m like, this is where it’s at. I love the virtual world because you have control over when, over where, and you can watch it multiple times. So I’ve changed most of what I do to virtual. I work pretty much 100 percent from my home office.
There’s also something to be said for reaching more people and I honestly love the fact that we can be so inclusive with virtual options
Q: That’s one of the things we’re theorizing at Burnalong is a hybrid model. That people want to choose “and” not “or”. They want to be able to connect with the medical fitness professional in their area because in-person still makes a difference while also being able to have the convenience, and frankly, some of the features that online provides with classes.
Let’s shift gears a bit. When you’re working with your clients, what kind of clients really should come to you? What’s your philosophy when you’re working with them?
I think sometimes it takes a lifetime to find your thing and your niche and where you belong. I was really depressed and down when I got diagnosed. The doctors said, “We don’t know. Maybe you could be fine. Maybe you have five years and you’re going to have a terrible time. Maybe in 10 years, you won’t be able to walk, I don’t know.” I had a grandmother who had the same diagnosis. She was paralyzed from the neck down from complications.
It was a wake-up call. And again, I go back to Wonder Woman. What are your choices? Choose something. And I wasn’t going to feel bad for myself though I could have easily gotten stuck.
People I love call me the Statue of Liberty. Give me your broken, your poor, your hungry. As much as it’s a joke, it’s true. I want people who want to change. That’s what it comes down to for me. What is going on? Let’s figure it out. Let’s design a program for you or educate you so that you can do what makes you happy.
I love the fact that once a week, I will log into my Burnalong account and I respond to every single comment. And it does not take very long but it is really meaningful. And maybe I don’t get a chance to talk to some of these people in person. But guess what? If they ask me a question, I’m going to answer. And if they want more information, I’ll provide it. Just that little personal connection; it makes all the difference in the world.
Want to learn more?
You can connect with Christine on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Additionally, you can of course take her classes on Burnalong. To view her whole interview, check out the video below.