Health Care

Either oar

Oar blades dip into the water of Broad Creek as the boat glides across the surface. In the early morning, the team of rowers are usually the only people on the water, joined by the occasional dolphin that surfaces nearby.

For Bob Garver, it's a peaceful pursuit. But it's also much more than that. It's the perfect exercise for this 77-year-old.

Garver is a member of the Palmetto Rowing Club, a group that keeps a stable of long, narrow boats under the Old Oyster Factory restaurant on Hilton Head Island. About 30 rowers are members of the club, whose ages range between mid-20s and late-70s, said president John Parker. The club holds an annual Learn to Row Day -- this year's is Saturday -- to draw novices to the sport. Most of the members had little to no experience when they joined, he said.

Garver joined the club as a way to get back into the sport he had fallen away from.

He started rowing when he attended Dartmouth College and immediately fell in love with it. Graduation came and working life got in the way of rowing life. The banker retired to Hilton Head with his wife in 1987. He suffered a mild heart attack in 1989, causing him to get more serious about diet and exercise.

He used to jog, but running can be hard on the knees. He plays tennis occasionally and walks. But his preference is rowing, which he came back to in 1993 after he introduced himself to a club member at a function in Port Royal Plantation.

Garver typically rows in a small group, each person in a single boat with two oars. This is called sculling, as opposed to sweeping, where teams of rowers in one boat each operate an oar.

While it might appear to just engage the arms and shoulders, rowing is a full-body workout. The sliding seat in the boat means all the major muscle groups get exercise, helping with strength as well as cardiovascular endurance. The swift, fluid motion is low-impact, limiting the potential for serious injury. Like cycling, rowing can allow for a leisurely or more strenuous pace.

"You can do it as easy or has hard as you want," Parker said.

Garver typically goes out about three mornings a week for about an hour of rowing. If the water is too cold (the club discourages rowers from getting in if the water is 50 degrees or less), he'll stay at home to practice on a row machine, similar to ones found in gyms but with a tube of water that provides resistance.

It's not as peaceful as his Broad Creek excursions. But it does give him a similar workout.

"If I don't get exercise, I don't feel right," he said.