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Finding a Balance continued...

So, how can you incorporate these gentler, kinder exercises into your routine?

If you don't already belong to a gym, start by calling health clubs in your area and requesting specific information about the equipment and classes they offer, advises Jamy McGee, fitness director at the Wellness Center at Meadowmont, part of the University of North Carolina Healthcare System in Chapel Hill.

If a club seems to meet your needs, pay a visit, she says: "Take a walk through the place, look around. Are there enough elliptical trainers and recumbent bicycles to meet the needs of members during peak times?

"The club should offer a free equipment orientation or a free session with a personal trainer so you can become familiar with the equipment," she says.

If you have the Pilates or yoga bug, ask about class size: Fewer than six students is best, she says. "You want some personal attention to ensure you don't get into any bad habits."

Watch a class and ask about the instructor's credentials, McGee says. Levels of education and skill among teachers vary widely. And definitely ask other gym members for their opinion.

Complete beginners may also want to try a video, McGee says.

If you already belong to a gym and want to sign up for yoga or Pilates classes, look for those that cater to beginners, she says: "There is a lot to learn. Whether it's a breathing technique or a particular stretch, you should give it time. If you start with an advanced class, you probably won't like it and you may even injure yourself."

Similarly, don't just jump on the elliptical trainer and start pedaling away, McGee says. "It's a little harder than a treadmill; more coordination is needed. So you may want to ask an instructor for help or start out by walking on a treadmill."

Mix It Up

Cooper suggests setting aside one or two days a week for yoga and/or Pilates, and the others for your low-intensity aerobic activity. A varied program will avoid muscle overuse, while alleviating boredom.

Whether you choose brisk walking or a ride on the recumbent bicycle for your cardiovascular workout, a minimum of 30 minutes, three to five days a week, is recommended.

The right mix offers endless benefits, says Golden. "Before I started my [low-impact program], I was in really bad shape. Now I have the movement I always wanted. People tell me I look younger and I definitely feel healthier than I have in years."

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