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New Year's Resolution: Get Fit

Resolved to exercise and get in shape? Here's how to actually do it.

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To avoid overwhelming yourself, set realistic expectations, says Marilyn Tanner, RD, co-creator of the Head to Toe program at the St. Louis Children's Hospital and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Assess where you are now, and then break it into achievable goals," says Tanner, noting how important it is to limit the number of resolutions. Stick to one small physical activity goal and to one small nutrition goal, and keep a reserve list of objectives, she says. Once you have accomplished your primary goals, move on to the next set.

How does one go about choosing an appropriate fitness program? Different things work for different people. Fortunately, there are more than enough options.

Starting to Make Healthy Choices

When fitness clients ask, "Which machine is the best for cardiovascular training?" Ross usually answers, "The one that you hate the least."

Exercise does not have to be dull. Yet as people grow up, they lose the connection between fun and movement, says Ross. He suggests thinking about the kind of person you are and what you like to do. Some people may love going to the gym while others prefer to play team sports. Still others favor jogging or walking around the neighborhood.

"It really doesn't matter what you do, if it's running up and down the stairs in your house, if it's sitting up and down in a chair 20 times, or running around the yard, or running around the treadmill, all (cardiovascular) exercise has to be is something that increases the demand for oxygen," says Ross. "If you are asking your body to use oxygen more rapidly, that is by very definition, cardiovascular training."

Exercise does not need to be a formal activity, either. It does not require a big chunk of time carved out of your day. Decades ago, people stayed fit by doing ordinary things like doing housework, taking the stairs, and playing with their kids, says Pauline Wallin, PhD, a clinical psychologist in private practice, and a personal life coach in Camp Hill, Pa.

Some activities can even double as weight-bearing exercise, the other component of an ideal fitness program. This type of exercise involves anything that uses body weight against gravity. Examples include walking, jogging, playing basketball, yoga, martial arts, push-ups, weight training, and free weights.

To get maximum benefits, focus on working out the larger muscle groups. Most of the muscle mass in the body lies in the trunk, thighs, chest, back, and abdomen. Targeting these areas will give "you the biggest bang for your buck, so to speak, for your workout time," says Ross. He suggests starting out with one set of eight to 15 repetitions of one exercise two days a week.

If you are unsure about how to perform certain exercises properly, seek expert help. You may hire a personal trainer for one or two sessions to get started. "Many people try to (start a fitness program) on their own, and they try things that really aren't meant to get the long-term result," says Ross. "It's extremely beneficial to get education if you feel like you need it."

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