7 tips for a better ’11

The following originally appeared yesterday in The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer as part of the papers’ series on Fat. It appears today with helpful links to provide you with more information.

Move more and eat better in 2011 using these seven simple strategies:

1. Mix it up. The big trend in fitness isn’t one thing, it’s everything. Avoid drudgery, avoid stressing the same muscles and work your entire body by doing a variety of workouts. “Incorporating several different forms of exercise in a training program can be an excellent way to develop the various components of fitness,” according to the American Council on Exercise. If your goal is to lose weight, varying your exercise regimen — walking one day, lifting weights the next, taking a Zumba class after that — keeps your muscles from becoming too efficient at any one exercise and thus burning fewer calories.

Bikes have changed since you were a kid.

2. Find what works. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it. Think, personal trainers advise, about what you like to do, or what you liked to do in the past. Did you love riding your bike as a kid? A preponderance of fun-to-ride bikes — from the aptly named “comfort” bikes to speedier and more aggressive urban bikes — has flooded the market, and with nearly 150 miles of greenway in the Triangle, it’s easy for the grown-up you to rekindle your childhood love. Or maybe you get so caught up in the joy of dance you don’t realize you’ve had a good workout until the following morning. Zumba, dance exercise with a Latin zing, and Nia, a marriage of dance, the martial arts and the “healing arts,”  are two popular dance options.

3. Eat smart, eat simple. It’s a paradox, but the more we learn about food, the poorer we seem to eat. Good-eating advocate and author Michael Pollan writes in his latest book, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” “for all the scientific and pseudoscientific food baggage we’ve taken on in recent years, we still don’t know what we should be eating.” Pollan, whose “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” were both best-sellers, doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but his “Food Rules” offers 64 succinct suggestions for common-sense eating. They range from “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” to “Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle” (fresh food generally lines the walls, processed foods are in the aisles). Some suggestions are only a sentence; none takes up more than a page.

4. Try the unthinkable. Running, for instance. Few exercises elicit a more visceral negative reaction than running. Yet an increasing number of people who find their metabolism slowing as they pass 40 are turning to running as a way to keep the pounds off. Consider: A 170-pound person who walks three miles in an hour will burn 337 calories; that same person will burn more than twice that many calories (775) running six miles in an hour. One reason running doesn’t seem as arduous anymore: an explosion of walk-to-run programs. A walk-to-run 5K program takes nonrunners and, over the course of 12 weeks, converts their walks into runs to the point that they can run an entire 5K (3.1 miles).

5. It’s a lifestyle, not a quick fix. There’s a reason programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and TOPS have been around so long while the all-grapefruits-all-the-time diet fads quickly fade. Fad diets — promising fast results based on a quick fix — may work in the short term, but once you’ve dropped that 20 pounds, you’re back to your old, bad habits. Programs that focus on changing behavior have a better chance of helping you lose weight and keep it off. According to WebMD.com, a healthy weight-loss program should include a daily minimum of 1,000 to 1,200 calories for women and 1,200 to 1,600 for men; promote slow, gradual weight loss, generally 1 to 2 pounds a week; offer flexibility in food offerings; and not cut back on your recommended daily allowance of vitamins, minerals and proteins.

"Marge, there's a Twinkee banging on my front door! What should I do?

6. Find a support group. Look at it as misery loves company, if you must, but knowing you’re not alone in any challenge can make a difference. According to the Mayo Clinic, “A support group can help you cope better and feel less isolated as you make connections with others facing similar challenges.” In a convenience store getting hit on by Little Debbies? A fellow dieter who can talk you down is just a cell phone call away. And for those times after a long day of work when you don’t think you have the strength for Pilates? The guilt of knowing your classmates are gutting it out should be enough to get your butt in gear.

7. Persevere. Losing weight, moving more and adopting a healthier lifestyle aren’t easy. It won’t happen, in a healthy way, over night. And studies have shown that most resolutions fall by the wayside before January is over. But if you slip up, don’t throw in the towel. According to a study by the University of Scranton, 71 percent of people surveyed who achieved their resolution slipped up at least once (and usually early on, in January). So you miss a day at the gym or a seductive slice of cheesecake crushes your vow of no desserts? Look at why you slipped up — maybe five days a week at the gym is too much with your schedule, maybe one dessert a week isn’t a bad thing — and adjust if you think it will help you reach your goal, and carry on.

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