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Starting to Make Healthy Choices continued...

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."

Consulting a dietitian for nutrition advice may help as well. Healthy eating is an essential part of a good fitness program. A person who works out a lot but does not nourish the body properly could be sabotaging or hiding the fruits of his labor.

Dee Sandquist, MSRD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, advises having a general plan, and investing some time in advance to make it happen. "Taking five minutes on the weekend to plan your food for the week can pay huge dividends," she says. "Look at your schedule for the upcoming week, and find out how many meals you'll be eating in and how many meals you'll be eating out. Make a list, and then go to the grocery store."

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