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Fat gets a bad rap.

It is perhaps the least understood of all essential nutrients. We hear a lot about eating low-fat and no-fat foods because of the high caloric content of fat and the role it plays in cardiovascular disease. So we tend to forget that a certain amount of fat is essential for good health.

The main reason fat calories are considered "bad guys" is that most Americans eat too many of them. That causes excess body fat and weight. Fat contains more than twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates. But eating too many carbohydrates and proteins can also put on the pounds. After the body has used all the nutrients it needs to meet its demands, it stores what is left over as fat.

Here are some of the "good guy" qualities of fat, the nutrient:

1) It provides the body with stored potential energy.

2) It serves as a protective shield against trauma to the vital organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, brain and spinal cord.

3) It provides our bodies with essential fatty acids that can be found only in food. Fatty acids help produce hormones and nerve cells and are important for carrying and absorbing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

4) It helps to maintain healthy skin and hair.

5) It provides insulation to retain body heat.

So what is considered healthy, middle-of-the-road fat intake? Thirty percent of our total daily calories from fat. If you have elevated cholesterol levels, your fat intake should be 20 percent to 25 percent.

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Thoracic (midback) Spine Rotation Stretch

Sit on a chair with the back of the chair facing to your left. Sitting tall, turn your shoulders and trunk to the left, placing your hands on the back of the chair. Holding your hands firmly on the chair, try to turn yourself as far to the left as feels comfortable to you. Hold the stretch, relax and return to the straight ahead position. Now turn so the back of the chair is to your right and repeat the stretch, rotating to the right side.

Lumbar (low back) and Thoracic (midback) Rotation Stretch

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place hands at side of head, elbows on the floor. Keeping knees together, roll your hips to one side, then return to the starting position; rotate hips to the opposite side.

Rotation Crunch

Lying on the floor, bend knees so they are over the hips, feet off the floor. With hands supporting your head and one elbow resting on the floor, slowly rotate the torso, lifting one shoulder blade off the floor. Complete the repetitions to the same side (see tip box), then reverse the pattern, lifting to the opposite side.

Picture 4 Lumbar (low back) and Hip Extensor Stretch

Lying on the floor, place your hands behind the thighs. Keeping your head on the floor, lift your buttocks slightly off the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat several times.

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Tip box

The degree of stability and support of the trunk area depends mainly on the strength of the supporting muscles.

1. Perform exercises on a mat placed on a firm surface.

2. Warm up for five minutes with a few rhythmic movements such as marching or easy walk/jog.

3. Thoracic Spine Rotation Stretch: Turn slowly and hold the position so you feel a gentle stretch in your midback. You may hold the stretch for several minutes.

4. Lumbar and Thoracic Rotation Stretch: When you begin this exercise, move rhythmically and slowly from right to left, as far as you comfortably can move. When you are used to this movement and feel warmed up, hold a gentle stretch to each side. After each stretch, return to the neutral spine position.

5. Rotation Crunch: Contract abdominals and maintain a flat back. Begin with one set of eight repetitions to one side followed by eight to the opposite side. Gradually increase to three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Text: Sally Anderson

Model: Marty Brinsko

Photographer: Kathleen Cabble