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Because bodies are living, breathing matter, they need to be stimulated in order to become more fit. This means exercise is ideally done just outside your comfort zone. "You're taking your body a little outside where it is, because it needs that challenge - that stimulus - to be able to improve," says Ross.

If that is basically what exercise is, then you as an average Joe or Jane should be able to "just do it," and be on your way to a healthy, well-toned body, right? Perhaps. But as many people know all too well, it's not that easy to start a fitness routine, particularly for the out-of-shape and the inconsistent. There's the workout to begin, and the diet to plan, too.

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."

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