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WHOA, TAKE IT EASY

Thanksgiving is next week, but the festive (read: lots of food) season goes on past New Year's. Here are some easy steps to help keep the party from becoming a pig-out:

1 Don't skip breakfast. In general, breakfast-eaters weigh less than those who skip the first meal of the day and find that they have better mental performance, too.

2 Maintain a regular eating schedule. Waiting longer than five or six hours between meals leads to poor food choices.

3 At parties, go easy on the cheese. Fill your plate with vegetables, and skip the dip. Plain boiled shrimp is a good option.

4 Watch out for cocktails - a new study finds American adults get as many empty calories from alcohol as from sugary soft drinks. Limit yourself to one or two, then switch to water or seltzer. You'll sleep better, too.

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TAKE A STAND: The evils of sitting have been well documented in recent years. It has been associated with everything from increased cancer risk to shorter life expectancy, and it's costing Americans an arm and a leg - and a back. At least $50 billion is spent each year to treat lower back pain, the fall issue of NYU Physician says.

According to the magazine, chronic back pain isn't caused so much by acute injury as by muscles that have become weak or imbalanced from disuse.

Strengthening exercises for the core and lower back, massage, acupuncture, anti-inflammatory meds and injections are all discussed in the article.

But above all, we need to get up, stand up. Set an alarm to go off every 20 to 30 minutes to remind you.

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GIVE 'EM A LIFT: Booster seats save lives, and so do state laws requiring young children to ride in them, according to a new study.

The seats boost kids who have outgrown infant car seats so that a shoulder belt secures them in a safe way. But only 48 percent of 4- and 5-year-olds use them, along with 35 percent of 6- and 7-year-olds, according to a 2008 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A new analysis of states requiring booster seats finds the rate of deaths in 4- and 5-year-olds was 5.7 per 100,000 kids before the laws took effect. In the years after, the rate dropped to 4.2 deaths per 100,000 kids, says the report, published in Pediatrics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids use booster seats until they are at least 8 years old and are 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

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RUN NOW, FEAST LATER: If you know that Thanksgiving restraint is just not going to be possible, maybe a winning strategy is to burn off a few calories before the feast.

- Sunday is the Women's Half Marathon in St. Petersburg (guys are welcome, too), with a scenic route along the city's famous waterfront and through Snell Isle. Both runners and walkers participate in this race, which awards great bling-y medals to competitors. Online registration is closed, but you can still sign up for the half or the 5K at the fitness expo today at the Vinoy Hotel, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Details at womenshalf.com.

And of course on Thanksgiving Day, one of the area's favorite holiday traditions, the Times Turkey Trot in Clearwater, serves up a race for every taste. You'll find details on Page 14, or at tampabay.com/turkeytrot.

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