‘We need caring people to help other people’

Joseph ‘Jake’ Jacobs, high-school health and physical education instructor and adjunct college professor


Coffee Break

Joseph “Jake” Jacobs believes your coffee break should improve your health.

“I’m a big advocate for ‘active’ coffee breaks,” he wrote in an email, whether that’s a 20-minute yoga session or 20 minutes of hitting golf balls on the driving range.

Jacobs is health and physical education instructor at St. John’s Catholic Prep in Buckeystown, Md., and an adjunct professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., and Penn State Mont Alto. 

He holds a doctorate in the psychology of sport from the University of Maryland, College Park. He has shared health and fitness strategies in hospitals, community organizations, colleges and universities and commercial and corporate offices.


On a break, do you reach for coffee, tea, soda, water … ?

It all depends on how I feel and the time of day. A break can be very early in the day, because I like to start the day very early. In that case, coffee. By and large, throughout the day I go for water, but after enough plain water I like to mix in some Gatorade or Powerade for flavor, and finally, toward the end of the day or if some days I just need the lift or pick-me-up, I’ll have a soda, just one, and feel guilty only for a moment. If I happen to drive by a Dunkin’ Donuts at any time any day, I’ll stop for an iced coffee.

An average day for you includes … ?

Typically, an average day begins with the thought, “Hmmm, when do I get my walk in.” Truthfully, most days begin with quiet time, hot coffee and scripture. I like to think that’s in the playbook for anyone over 60, and I’m joining a million others at that moment.

I know my academic/educational energy level is highest in the morning, so I focus on the reading and writing demands of the day when my head is much clearer. By lunch I need to get physical, and love the daily lunchtime physical activity lesson I learned from my college professor/mentor at the University of Maryland. So I like to fit my walk or jog in here at a park or sports field, then maybe stretch out or lift some light weights a little as my physical energy level peaks.

Throughout the day, I go in and out of my daily planner to check off my to-do list, which is where I keep some sort of reminder to not be so self-absorbed with my agenda and rather look for other people and how I can help, serve, engage and enjoy them. I can forget about food because its never been a high priority, so its typically a light fare because I just don’t like the heavy feeling of a heavy meal and avoid it entirely — all but a few “special occasion” days of the year. If you are an early riser, you need to retire to bed early, and in that case I really view 10 p.m. as the very latest I’ll ever stay up. I neglected to talk about power nap time, which happens some days, but I subscribe to the belief that, if almost all of us took the 20-minute catnap most days, we’d be twice as productive.

You’ve talked about the nation taking a different approach to public health and fitness. Can you outline what you believe would be more effective than current approaches?

Here’s the real deal regarding our nation’s physical fitness. More that 50 years ago we became a much less physical society, and we tried to replace it, or compensate for it, or “fix” it, with commercial health and fitness clubs “prescribing” the three-times-a-week-for-50-minutes exercise routine. Society had and still has a problem with that. And the real solution lies in schools (think student life programs), companies (think employee fitness programs), health care providers (think health and fitness counselors) and homes (think neighborhood parks and trails and recreation fields). While these ideas could be exponentially increased, people of all ages, shapes and sizes need to personally tailor their individual program to fit their unique daily lives. Our health-care providers and agencies could do a lot more to help people with this, as could our schools and workplaces. I believe we are on the verge of this revelation and people will decide for themselves they need this and then go get it. But I honestly believe this is a real responsibility of schools, health-care providers and employers. We don’t need more technological gimmicks to monitor our fitness efforts. We need caring people to help other people, one at a time, to develop an individual program that works for them.

Along those lines, what are the first few things people should do to confront and improve their personal health?

I would encourage everyone to explore more opportunities to try out or to learn about fitness programs and physical activities. I can’t think of one person I haven’t recommended they find a safe place to get out and walk more. People can do their own research and try their hand at beginning and maintaining a lifestyle fitness program, but it helps to do it with someone. Being around like-minded people is maybe the best advice, and I believe virtually all of us want to be a little more fit.

Outside of your career, what are your ambitions and aspirations?

My latest investment of time and energy is in helping society take care of its aging population. So much more needs to be learned about aging, longevity and quality of life for our senior population. Nursing homes and retirement homes need to be re-imagined, and our society needs to reward those who have reached retirement years with many more programs and services for them to enjoy. We need to take better care of our seniors, and I intend to do that, beginning with my 92-year-old mom.

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