21 Steps Toward a More Physically Fit New Year

January is the month of good intentions. And for many of us, that means getting real about diet and exercise. Conventional wisdom says it takes 21 days to form a habit.
Photo credit: Cybelle Codish

1. Make every day a moving day.
Experts recommend exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Remember that movement takes many forms. One of the simplest (and most pleasurable) is walking. One hour of hitting the pavement at lunch will burn nearly 300 calories.

Calorie-burn by the hour:
Sleeping: 45  • Golf: 240 • Yoga: 360 Dancing: 370 • Soccer: 468 • Biking on a flat surface: 441 • Swimming: 603 • Jogging: 675 • Skiing: 740
Source: Cancer.org

“The human body is meant for movement. A wide variety of modern epidemics, from heart disease to diabetes to osteoporosis, are rooted in our sedentary lifestyles. Lifelong physical activity is crucial to optimum health, but running marathons is not required.” — Dr. Andrew Weil

2.  Get off the couch.
Watching TV burns so few calories, you might as well be sleeping (about 68 per hour for each). Hibernation is for bears. Even 10 minutes of activity is beneficial, a new report says.

3. Breathe.
“Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.”
Dr. Andrew Weil

4. Drink H20.
“On average, our bodies are 60-percent water. Every system in our body depends on it. Water helps to flush toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells, and provides a moist environment for ear, nose, and throat tissues. It’s used to lubricate bone joints, removes waste from our bodies, helps regulate digestion, and it’s a natural appetite suppressant.”
Yvonne Moses, R.D. (registered dietitian) from Henry Ford Hospital, West Bloomfield Township.

5.  Shop.
Regularly strolling the aisles of gourmet or health-food markets can whet the appetite for beautiful produce.

6. Try something different.
Pilates is a system of more than 500 controlled exercises that engage the mind and condition the body. Those who prefer to exercise at home in front of a DVD should visit a studio for a private session or class to become properly acquainted with the regimen. Fitness expert Kathy Smith says Pilates does the following: Defines core muscles for a flatter belly, sculpts and tones glutes and thighs, increases strength and flexibility, improves posture and circulation, builds balance and mental focus.

7.  Embrace the season.
Chilly temperatures are no excuse for sloth. The weather outside might be frightful, but that’s no excuse to stay sealed up indoors. Burn off those holiday calories and create a family mini-getaway by taking advantage of brisk winter activities. There’s no need to go far. Opportunities for snowboarding and cross-country skiing in scenic settings abound throughout metro Detroit. If snow is a scarce, head to Campus Martius Park and practice your figure eights while ice-skating in the heart of the city. Hours, rates, and equipment rental availability varies by location; call ahead.

Here’s a list of area winter activities:

The Rink at Campus Martius Park
Detroit • 313-963-9393
The north lawn’s seasonal rink is open all winter, and skate rental prices are reasonable. The views of the city are hard to beat, and when you’re ready for a break, a cup of hot chocolate from Au Bon Pain will hit the spot.

Bald Mountain Recreation Area
Lake Orion • 800-447-2757
Bald Mountain’s 4,637-acre picturesque park offers eight miles of groomed cross-country skiing trails and space for snowmobiling and sledding. Beginners take note: Bald Mountain has some of the steepest hills and most rugged terrain in southeast Michigan.

Glen Oaks Golf Course
Farmington Hills • 888-627-2757
The rolling terrain of this historic golf course makes for great play in the summer and exhilarating cross-country skiing in the winter.

Independence Oaks County Park
Clarkston • 888-627-2757
This 1,100-acre park offers 10 miles of marked nature and ski trails and ice for skating. Skis are available for rent, while warming shelters and food concessions let visitors rest up for another round.

Lower Huron Metropark
Belleville • 800-477-3182
This 1,300-acre park winds along the scenic Huron River, providing peaceful surroundings for skating and cross-country skiing.

Metro Beach Metropark
Mount Clemens • 800-477-3172
Metropolitan Beach, the popular park along Lake St. Clair, isn’t just a summertime destination. It’s also a prime locale for ice skating, ice hockey, and skiing.

Stony Creek Metropark
Shelby Township • 800-477-7756
Not all of north Macomb County is shopping malls and subdivisions. This 4,500-acre park’s hilly terrain and vast Stony Creek Lake are ideal for ice skating, sledding, and cross-country skiing.

Waterloo Recreation Area
Chelsea • 800-447-2757
Waterloo is the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula, with more than 20,000 acres. This beautiful park includes 11 inland lakes and glacial topography. In the winter, about seven miles of its hiking trails are transformed into ungroomed cross-country ski trails suitable for intermediate to advanced skiers.

Pine Knob Ski Area
Clarkston • 800-642-7669
Pine Knob bills itself as a winter wonderland, offering ski and snowboard classes and three parks for snowboarding of all levels, in addition to its slopes.

Mt. Brighton Ski Area
Brighton • 810-229-9581
Mt. Brighton has it all: 130 ski-able acres, a 250-foot vertical drop, 26 runs with seven chairlifts, and 11 surface tows. Snowboarders will like the terrain park and extended half pipe. Try night skiing, race programs, or learn new moves at the ski school. There’s also a lodge and a full-service restaurant.

Alpine Valley Ski Area
White Lake • 248-887-2180
Skilled snowboarders should head to Alpine, which boasts a large half pipe and terrain park with ramps, rails, and launches. Its 25 scenic slopes offer suitable options for skiers of all skill levels. A lounge offers food and entertainment.

Finally, here’s a note to indoor types: Winter sports needn’t mean getting cold. Check community recreation departments for free-skate schedules at rinks.

8.  Buy a pedometer.
A recent University of Michigan study showed that pedometers motivated sedentary people to walk, particularly if every step taken during the day counted, as opposed to counting only those steps taken during long walks.

9.  Calculate your body-mass index.
BMI measures the relationship between weight and height, and is often cited as the quickest answer to that burning question: Am I overweight? To calculate BMI,
divide your weight by your height (in inches) squared times 703. Ideally, your BMI should be over 18 and under 25.

10. Get started.
An exercise program doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. For strength training, any tool is fine, including dumbbells, elastic bands, body weight, and machines.

11. Make a list.
Plan a week of healthful meals and then shop for just those ingredients. Post the meal list in the kitchen. In addition to cutting down on food waste and grocery cost, that approach prevents the urge to make quick, unhealthy choices for weeknight meals.

12. Wear clothes tailored for working out.
Looking good can offer a psychological lift. A fabric with give means everything. “It’s very important to have the right clothing to exercise in. If you throw on an old T-shirt or sweats, it’s not inspiring for your workout.” — Cheryl Tiegs, former fashion model

13. Crunch the numbers.
Not all energy/protein bars are beneficial. Health.com offers several suggestions for finding a good bar. Many are highly fortified, so you could end up with too much of some nutrients, such as iron and vitamin A. Seek bars with no more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. Look for: High fiber (at least 3 grams), low saturated fat, with fewer than 3 grams, moderate sugar content (18 grams or fewer), and no trans-fats/hydrogenated oils.

14. Hire a personal trainer.
Make sure the trainer is certified by a nationally recognized certification organization, such as the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.org). If you have a specific goal or medical condition, find out what kind of experience the trainer has with those areas. Personality is also a factor. Good trainers listen.

For fitness trainer Lisa MacDonald, a passing bus on Long Lake Road was the vision and inspiration for her newly launched business.

While driving home from work one day, MacDonald was pondering how to get more clients and break into the corporate world. Then the traffic gave her an idea. “I could do a home-training studio in a bus,” she recalls thinking. Her idea has sped off in a whole new direction.

After doing some research and calculations, MacDonald purchased a 40-foot city bus. “I bought the bus on eBay,” the 26-year-old personal trainer says. MacDonald explains that she didn’t want to do personal training at a club her entire life, and opening her own studio didn’t “spark.”

After eight months of renovation, MacDonald was set to go. Her goal is simple: to target metro Detroit corporations and arrange fitness programs for their employees. For $75-$125, clients can receive private or group lessons, as well as health-related seminars and lectures.

Her portable studio is equipped with an adjustable squat rack, 300-pound weight set, barbells, stability balls, exercise bike, Thera-bands, and more. MacDonald will also make private house calls. Depending on residential-street zoning, and location, MacDonald will bring the gym to you. “More than 80 percent of them [personal clients] don’t have anything [equipment],” in their home, she says.

Though she brought seven years of experience in exercise science and personal training to her new venture, MacDonald needed a little specialized training to get her business in gear: a commercial license. Now she’s in the driver’s seat. More information: fitnessdriven.com.

15. Choose a health club.
It’s no secret that picking a quality club is key to sticking with a program. Following are several tips, courtesy of The American Council on Exercise:
Location: Exercise has to be convenient. You’re more likely to use a club if it’s close to either your home or workplace.
Classes: If classes are what keep you motivated, make sure the club offers a good mix at a time and day that fit your schedule.
Staff: Personal trainers and group-fitness instructors should be certified through a nationally recognized certification group such as the American Council on Exercise. Credible certification ensures that the instructor meets the guidelines to provide a safe and efficient workout.
Hours: Lots of health clubs open early and close late. Before joining, however, check to see that the club is open when you plan to go. Then, visit the club at the times you intend to work out to determine crowding levels.
Try it: Sales people are trained to promote the benefits of their club, but you need to actually try the equipment and sample the atmosphere before enrolling. Request a day pass or a trial membership.
Payments: Many clubs have a variety of payment options. Find a fee schedule that meets your budget needs, and take advantage of any sign-up specials. Determine the exact membership fee and what it includes. Are there extra costs for child care and towels? Is there an initiation fee? And when joining a new club that hasn’t yet opened, make sure that deposits or payments are held in an escrow account until they officially open.
Reputation: Before joining, talk to current members about their experiences with the club. The Better Business Bureau can tell you if the club is a member, or if any complaints have been registered against it. Ask if the club is a member of the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). IHRSA clubs must adhere to a code of ethics that protects the health and safety of their members, as well as protects consumers from unscrupulous business practices. To find an IHRSA club in your area, visit healthclubs.com.
Etc.: When touring the club, observe details. How clean is the facility? Is the music too loud? Is most of the equipment in working order? (Too many “out of order” signs may indicate poor maintenance.) Are new members provided with an orientation and instruction on how to use equipment?

16. Be part of a trend.
Americans are exercising more, but most are still not working out enough to meet federal guidelines. From 2001 to 2005, the number of women who said they exercised regularly rose from 43 percent to 46.7. The number of men who said the same thing rose from 46 percent to 49.6, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found. For the study, regular physical activity was defined as at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity activity at least five days per week or at least 20 minutes per day of vigorous-intensity activity at least three days per week. Note: Some may want to defy the trend. The CDC study said that white males and females were more likely to exercise regularly than African-Americans and Hispanics. College-educated respondents were more likely to work out.

17.  Walk and talk.
Multi-tasking can be healthy. Cell phone in hand, embark on a 2-3 mile brisk walk. Then call a friend and get caught up while you walk. Or walk with a friend or spouse and have a moving conversation.

18. Know the exercise myths.
• Strength training isn’t just for men.
• You can’t spot reduce; exercising your abs won’t get rid of love handles, for example.
• You can overdo cardio and weight training.
• Just because people appear physically fit doesn’t mean they are. Don’t be frustrated by celebrities; everyone’s body is different.
• Weight gain with age is not a fact of life. Exercise becomes even more important with every birthday.

19. Dance.
It’s an art, but it’s also an exercise. Just look at dancers’ bodies for evidence of that. Physical benefits include strong muscles, increased flexibility, better posture, and enhanced coordination. For video instruction, try New York City Ballet Workout, Volumes I & II, Zena Rommett Floor-Barre Series. Source: Mary Lou Parker, owner/director, Grosse Pointe Dance Center, and artistic director, Mack Avenue Dance Co.

20. Schedule a physical exam.
Having a complete physical before starting an exercise program is crucial to identifying limitations and/or restrictions. Although most commercial fitness centers do not require a physician’s consent prior to joining, it’s in our best interest to consult with a doctor if we fit into one or more of the following categories:

• High blood pressure (systolic at or above 140 mmHg, diastolic at or above 90 mmHg) on at least two separate occasions.
• High cholesterol (greater than 240 total).
• A smoking habit (within the past six months).
• Diabetes.
• A family history of heart disease.
Source: Rachel Curi, Health Fitness Professional, B.S. in Kinesiology & ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Chrysler Health Activity Center, Auburn Hills.

21. Know the difference between good carbs and bad.
Good carbohydrates are minimally processed and are in or very close to their natural state. Good carbs include vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, whole-grain cereals, breads, and pastas. Bad carbohydrates are generally refined, processed foods that have had all or most of their nutrients removed to achieve a longer shelf life. Most packaged snack foods, white breads, pastas, and candy contain ingredients that include artificial flavorings, preservatives, and bleached or enriched flours that categorize them as bad carbs. The key to consuming the right carbs, and food in general, is to eat foods that are as close as possible to their natural state.

Source: Rachel Curi, Health Fitness Professional, B.S. in Kinesiology & ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Chrysler Health Activity Center, Auburn Hills.

Tips compiled by: Mandy Burton, Aleene Jinn Hang, Jessica Page-Carreras, Rebecca Powers, and Alexa Stanard.