New year, new you: Health and fitness tips

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — It’s the start of the new year, which means many people will begin a new fitness regimen and/or diet. It’s never too late to want to be healthy and look better.

“The single best medicine a physician could ever prescribe is exercise,” said Dr. Jeffrey Leggit, a sports medicine expert with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Leggit urges people to stay as active as possible. “Even little things like taking the stairs, parking farther away from your job our house, or taking a 10-minute walk break every hour can make a difference.”

The goals related to resolutions at this time of year are always worthwhile, but never easy to meet. So how do you assure that the new year can in fact ring in a new you?

Elizabeth Harris, a fitness center manager at Defense Health Headquarters and a self-proclaimed fitness ‘lifer’, says before you begin any exercise program or diet, please check with your physician to ensure you don’t have any health issues that workouts may aggravate. “Also, assess your fitness level,” she said. “Having a record of your fitness level can be a baseline to measure your progress. Keep a record of the basics- your weight, body mass index, flexibility, aerobic fitness level and muscular endurance.”

In addition, Harris suggests you consider your fitness goals. “Are you trying to manage your weight? Are you trying to get stronger? Are you looking to participate in a competitive fitness activity?” she said. “Having goals in mind will help you measure your progress and stay motivated. Once you get started, monitor your progress after about six weeks.” If you need help, Harris recommends seeking the help of a personal trainer or qualified fitness professional. “Many offer free assessments to help you get started,” she said.

Harris understands that trying to keep consistent with an exercise program can be a struggle. According to a 2013 study by, 73 percent of people who make new year’s resolutions to get fit give up on their goal. She suggests that you start small and establish reasonable goals you can commit to. “You only set yourself up for failure by going overboard,” said Harris. “For example, don’t schedule workouts seven days a week if you can only do two or three days per week. Another common mistake is making excuses why you can’t work out. Everyone gets tired, busy, etc. Excuses are the biggest obstacle to better health and fitness. Make a commitment to yourself for improved health. Plan your meals and fitness time. Execute the plan. It’s really that simple.”

Muscle soreness is another reason why many who begin fitness programs get discouraged, but Harris explains soreness is something people of all fitness levels experience. Proper planning can help to lessen what is called ‘delayed onset muscle soreness.’ “One way to alleviate soreness is to implement a cooldown phase after each workout,” she said. “Take 10 minutes doing light cardio, such as jogging or walking, followed by stretching. Myofascial release therapy using a foam roller is another effective way to relieve muscle tension. Other simple things you can do at home are using a cold compress, topical muscle relief creams or simply resting.”

A key component to fitness is diet. Harris’ recommendation is to “keep it simple … and real. What I mean by this is, avoid the fad diets that many use to try to lose weight or get in shape fast. Eat foods in moderation and practice portion control. However, don’t starve yourself. Stick to nonprocessed food. The more processed a food is, the less it has to offer your body in terms of nutrients. When preparing your meals, keep in mind that half your plate should consist of vegetables and/or fruit.” She also urges people to avoid sugary drinks as much as possible and drink fresh water.

Harris encourages people to find a partner to work out with when starting a new fitness routine. “Partners motivate each other and you tend to push yourself more during your workout,” she said. “Partners can also spot each other through tough reps while lifting weights. Whether you are a novice fitness enthusiast or an athlete, having a partner can be a great benefit to fulfilling your long-term fitness goals.”