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Retracing first steps to better health

Brooksville resident Larry Van Fossen remembers taking his first steps. It was four years ago when his doctor prescribed him drugs for high cholesterol, hypertension and hypoglycemia after a physical proved he was out of shape.

Van Fossen, who decided not to live on the cocktail of medications forever, took one lap around the walking trail at Tom Van Park in Brooksville.

"I thought it would be enough, but I was terribly out of shape," he said. "That was unacceptable and I was not quite 50."

In time, the 53-year-old business owner dropped about 35 pounds and 5 inches from his waist. And so started Fossen's new, healthier lifestyle.

Saturday, Fossen returned to the park where it all began. He joined roughly 30 people, who for a variety of personal reasons chose to take their first steps to better living as part of a kickoff event for Step Up, Hernando!

Designed as a personal competition, the Hernando County Health Department program encourages participants to track their daily walking on a pedometer for six weeks. From there, the data is entered into a health department Web site (www.health.co.hernando.fl.us/ stepping/index.html).

The goal of the Hernando County Health Department program is to encourage each county resident to walk 10,000 steps every day, which is close to walking 5 miles.

Heart Healthy Hernando coordinator Karen Gidden said the steps can be taken anywhere: at home, work and even while shopping.

Five miles seems like a stretch, but consider this. Van Fossen started at one mile and now walks about 5 miles per day. He said he wanted to participate in Saturday's kickoff event because he, too, made personal goals and have met them.

"Prior to this, I would come home late at night and my heart raised from walking up the stairs," Van Fossen said.

Now Van Fossen, who writes health-oriented essays, is training for his second marathon. As a race-walker, he competed in the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon in Madeira Beach last year.

"Last year I finished in 5 hours, 15 minutes," he said. "I don't care much about how long it took. I finished."

Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or dbournesptimes.com.

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