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Walk toward health starts with 10 steps

Have you ever found yourself sitting on the couch reading a magazine or flipping through the channels on your television set, and something catches your attention? An image of the person you want to be, who looks like you want to look? The one with the flat stomach or the defined arms?

Maybe it's been something on your mind for awhile, but to get from where you are to there seems years away.

Working as a personal trainer and spinning instructor for the past eight years, I've encountered many people who have decided to do something about their health and appearance. But outside the gym, I've also stumbled upon individuals who, although seemingly interested, have not yet made that first step toward wellness.

I say, give me 10.

Give me 10 minutes of your time. Ten minutes to read this and make an investment in yourself. Before you go into a gym, before you lift a weight or take a class. Before you begin the next fad diet.

Let's look at 10 basic steps you can take to break the ice and make a difference. Because like many people, you may not know where to start and more often than not, drastic change isn't likely to last over a long period of time. Becoming a healthier, more fit person isn't about losing 15 pounds in two weeks for a wedding or a reunion, it's about changing habits and moving toward a different lifestyle.

The first step is simple: Make a conscious choice. Are you at a health risk? Do your clothes fit differently than they used to? Until you admit there needs to be change, you can't attack the problem. Often the biggest step toward addressing your needs is making a mental shift. Whether it's denial or procrastination, you need to simply say, "I want better for myself, and I'll do what it takes to get there."

On the eve of his 49th birthday, Tom Bracewell, a nurse at Tampa General Hospital, looked in the mirror, didn't like what he saw and decided he was going to change. That was three months ago; since then he has lost 10 pounds. That's an honest start. He didn't go on a fad diet or outrageous workout regimen. He simply started by switching to diet soda and exercising three times a week.

"I made a conscious decision that I want to be around a little longer," said Bracewell, who now hopes to take the basketball court back from his 18-year-old nephew. "I want to be active as I get older and not end my life in a nursing home. So I just did it."

My second recommendation is to find a support mechanism. While the desire typically comes from within, we often require encouragement from an outside source. A spouse, co-worker or a friend who can reinforce your goals and assist in reaching them is invaluable. Find someone you can count on to give positive, yet firm, support.

Third: Perform a self-assessment. This can be difficult because denial is a hurdle that's tough to jump. Take 15 minutes to look at yourself in the mirror. Ask yourself why there needs to be a change and what your trouble areas are. Is it your health? Do you want to be more active or do you want to look younger? And don't be ashamed of vanity _ it's a fantastic motivator. If you want to look better to attract the opposite sex or make your spouse feel more attracted to you _ go with it!

The fourth step is as simple as it gets: Move! Turn the television off and get off the couch. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park further away at the mall. Walk the dog a little longer. A body in motion is a healthier body.

As a 10-year veteran of marathons, 36-year old Stacy Glover has always taken good care of her body. But her husband, Larry, has led somewhat of a sedentary lifestyle. A classic procrastinator, he realized as he approached his 40th birthday that he needed to live healthier. What's more, he wanted to look better for his wife.

So he cut down on snacking and started writing down what he had to eat for the day. Stacy helped too. "I'd get up every morning to walk the dog, and then I'd go home and walk my husband," she said.

Eventually walking became habit, and Larry's desire to take it to the next step led him to a gym. Over the the past five months he has dropped 21 pounds. The hardest part, he said, was getting over the initial hump of three to four weeks.

Next: Drink more water. It seems simple, but most of us don't do it. Everybody has heard of rules on how much to drink, but let's not even go that far. Just drink more than you do now and try to make it an increasing habit. Water not only makes your stomach feel more full, but it is essential in all bodily functions and keeps tissues and organs functioning properly.

That brings me to number six: Put away the scale and find a good mirror. The most frustrating thing a personal trainer can hear is, "I gained three pounds yesterday." Your body weight fluctuates daily, mostly because of water weight. If you live by the scale, chances are you hate it and want to throw it out anyway. A good mirror will bluntly tell you what you need to work on and will keep you from starving because of increased water weight.

We're more than halfway to a healthier you, but we have to get over a big bump. It maybe a hill or a mountain for some, but it's the most important: Make slight diet changes. Stay away from foods high in sugar. Switch to diet soft drinks, light beer and lean proteins like fish and chicken rather than starches and pastas for starters. As a general guideline, stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store. The dairy, meats and vegetable areas are there. Once you wander into the middle aisles, you're staring down candy, chips and pastas.

Another good rule of thumb is to avoid food which you can have delivered, or get in a drive-through. There are exceptions, but I think you know what we're talking about here.

Stretch. It's the most commonly overlooked aspect of fitness. Whether you sit in a chair most of the day or work on your feet, your muscles need to be stretched. Stretching helps circulate blood flow and promotes oxygenation of the muscles. You can stretch at work, at home, in a chair or in the shower. Ten minutes of stretching a day can dramatically increase your circulation and better your posture.

And finally, pick an activity that's fun and make it a habit. It can be as simple as playing with your kids outside for 15 to 20 minutes. If you like to dance, then dance. Play basketball, swim, or ride your bike to visit a neighbor. If it's something you enjoy, chances are you'll stick with it and it won't feel like exercise.

So that's it. Ten things anyone can do just to get a little momentum going. No gym yet, no lifting or stepping. Getting started is often the hardest part. So make the choice.

David Norrie of Westchase is a freelance sports writer when he isn't helping people get in shape. He will write an occasional column for Brandon Times about recreational sports and personal fitness. You can e-mail him at gimmie10aol.com.

On the Web

Learn more about starting a fitness program at these Web sites: everydaychoices.org and smallstep.gov.

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