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Preparing for Your Best Year of Fitness

Here's a word of advice: If you're getting ready to make New Year's fitness resolutions--don't. Instead, design a yearlong fitness plan to ensure that you make effective lifestyle changes.

Month-by-month plan

Use this yearlong plan to improve your health each month:

  • January. Set your goals. Take a look at your life: What's missing? What do you wish you could do? Invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer, who will point you in the right direction and help you get going.

  • February. Focus on fuel. Keep a daily log of what you eat and how you feel. As your body gets used to more activity, you'll naturally crave a lighter diet with less fat and sugar and more vegetables, fruits, and grains. You'll need protein to build muscle, so make sure your daily intake meets your new demands.

  • March. Check your progress. Look at what you've achieved so far and what's missing. Fatigue, aches, and pains are signs that you're trying to do too much, too soon. If your progress has slowed down or stopped, change your routine to keep your body challenged.

  • April. Stir in some variety. Take your activities outdoors or sign up for a sports league. Give yourself some fun challenges and keep track of those accomplishments.

  • May. Pace yourself. Daylight-saving time gives you more hours of sunlight, but don't feel compelled to fill them with frantic activity. Build your capabilities slowly.

  • June. Take midcourse action. You're halfway through the year, but are you halfway to your goals? Take a look at how your fitness efforts are affecting the rest of your life. Do you feel less stressed and more productive? Hopefully, the answer is yes.

  • July. Extend your limits. Go hiking or take long walks on the beach. Enjoy your body's increased energy and capabilities.

  • August. Put it to the test. Sign up for a fun run or start training for a competition you never thought you'd consider entering. Or add spice to your workouts by setting weekly challenges.

  • September. Go back to school. Students are returning to class, and so can you. Sign up for something that interests you, or that brings new discipline to your body, such as yoga or tae-bo.

  • October. Get in gear. Take advantage of end-of-season sales to treat yourself to some new accessories. Equip yourself for a sport or exercise that challenges you in a new way.

  • November. Kick an addiction. Take advantage of your new feeling of power to gain control over an unhealthy habit. Smoking, shopping, drinking too much alcohol--if some habit has taken over your life, you should now find it easier to quit.

  • December. Give yourself a present. Take stock of how much better you feel and look, then give yourself a tangible reward for your good work. Buy yourself a new outfit or treat yourself to a special weekend.

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