Each New Year’s Day provides a tangible starting line for personal improvements that almost always include better care and maintenance of the mortal vessel. That means more exercise, less food and maybe some movement in the right direction on things like spending (down), reading (up) and travel (up). So how can we ‘make it stick’ this year?

For most people, their newly adopted dedication to fitness fizzles out before the first spring songbirds return. The same old reasons keep sending people back to the couch—unreasonable goals, unworkable workout programs and lack of enjoyment.

easy does it
“There is a reason you didn’t stick with it and failed,” says Patrick McKee, fitness manager at the Jewish Community Center. “You need to try something different, take it slow, and get advice from someone who does a program themselves or someone who helps others, such as a trainer or other fitness professional.”

“You don’t want to start like you are 20 years old again,” warns Clint Schambach, a personal trainer with Level Up Fitness in Ballwin. “You need to be smarter and follow a workout plan that is designed for you. You might think of doing weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and going for a jog on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Sunday, just go for a walk to allow blood to flow through your muscles to flush the toxins out and allow them to recover.”

weight up
“People think their fat loss is going to come from doing cardio,” says Schambach. “It’s important, but it is not the best return on investment. The smarter approach would be flipping cardio with resistance training. At the gym, you see people talking for five minutes between sets of weights. That isn’t ramping up their metabolism for burning fat and calories!”

People want to lose weight but should be focused on changing body composition, McKee says. “A pound of fat takes up two to three times as much area as a pound of muscle. When you boost your muscle tone, you increase your metabolism to help you burn more fat throughout the day.” Exercise does not turn fat into muscle, he points out. “They are separate tissues. You need to have the right amount of both.”

fuel control
Regular exercise does not override the need for nutritional management. “It is a misconception that you can lose fat, gain muscle and have this awesome metabolism so you can eat whatever you want,” McKee says.

If hours of exercise aren’t producing pounds of loss, Schambach says, “You have to seriously look at what you are eating and be honest with yourself because chances are the nutrition component is not there. You probably are justifying unhealthy options.”

Schambach warns people not to get discouraged if after a few weeks of losing easy pounds, the weight loss comes to a grinding halt. “Most people see results in the first four to eight weeks and then results eventually stop because they keep doing the same program,” he says. “You should continually challenge yourself.

If you were running a mile two months ago and losing weight, now that mile probably is pretty easy and you are going to have to start running two miles to increase the demand. Your workout should change every four to eight weeks.

have fun!
“Your workout shouldn’t seem like a chore,” McKee says. “If you try something and decide it isn’t for you, that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t for you. It means you have to find something you like.” People generally have success sticking with group activities, he notes. “They become friends. They want to be around people who push them. It creates a lot of positive energy. That is why group training is fantastic—we say you pay for the training, and the counseling and therapy are free.”

And, he advises, don’t expect the needle on the bathroom scale to plunge downward every week. “You will have weeks of going up a pound or two and weeks of going down a pound. Remember this: If you lose half a pound a week for a year, that’s 26 pounds!”

Home, home on the range—does that describe where the foods on your table originate? Chances are you don’t actually know how most of your comestibles landed on your table. The food industry is changing that, and in the process, you might just be improving your nutrition.

what’s the difference?
“Organic is about the production methods, having food in its simplest state,” says Allison Phelps, spokesperson for Whole Foods Markets. “When you eat something organic, you are not eating something that was treated with a long-lasting pesticide, herbicide or fungicide, or any added growth hormone. You are not getting any genetically engineered products, and there was no sewage sludge used as fertilizer.”

The differences between conventional and organic foods are largely in the chemicals or hormones that can accompany them into our stomachs, bloodstream and tissues, says F. Afua Bromley of Acupuncture Saint Louis. “Take antibiotic use, particularly in meat and fish: Those antibiotics get transferred to you and increase public risk of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacterial infections,” she says.

Growth hormones also could end up in our bodies, Bromley says. “In particular, conventional cattle often are given hormone-based feed to get their weight up. Milk cattle are given hormones to increase milk production. There is a lot of disagreement on whether these are safe.” Chemicals sprayed on crops have been identified as potential health risks, too, she says. “There is evidence that many pesticides are endocrine disruptors thought to cause increased risk of breast cancer, premature puberty and low testosterone levels in men.

‘define organic’
The brochure What is Organic? on the USDA website explains: “If you see the ‘USDA Organic’ seal, the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content.” ‘Free-range’ is regulated by the government to identify chickens and eggs from a flock that is provided shelter with unlimited access to food, fresh water and the outdoors. ‘Cage-free’ indicates the flock freely roamed an enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water.

‘Natural’ meat, poultry and egg products, as regulated by USDA, “must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to the processing of meat and egg products.”

The department’s regulations state that “grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, while organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain . . . the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides.”

fishy business
Fish have earned unique consideration in the market because they often are caught in the wild, raising implications for additives as well as ecosystems. “With fish, I generally buy wild-caught,” Bromley says. “That means they live in the wild and are not cultivated or altered. Farmed fish are grown in smaller aquaculture and often are treated with antibiotics in their feed.”

Phelps says, “Our seafood follows the Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainability recommendations. This ensures that overly fished, poorly managed seafoods—or foods caught in ways that may be harmful to habitats—aren’t at our seafood counter.” The council she referenced is a nonprofit based in London.

what’s in your basket?
Bromley notes that some crops have higher pesticide rates than others. Conventional lettuce, strawberries and grapes, in particular, are known for high pesticide use. Fruits that have peels, like bananas and oranges, have reduced pesticide content thanks to the barrier provided by their skins. “I always buy organic apples and grapes because of the thin skins,” she says.

Bromley suggests using an ‘economies of scale’ approach to selecting organic foods over conventional. “For example, I might spend money on organic strawberries but buy conventional bananas.

[try new things]
If you keep doing the same old things, will the New Year really be new? One of the keys to an enriching—and mentally active—life is continually adding new ingredients to the activity menu.

change is good
“It is important to stay engaged. That is a really good resolution,” says Katie Compton, director of the Lifelong Learning Institute at Washington University. “Get out and do something new, learn something new, make new friends. It has been shown over and over that people live longer and are happier when they are out in the world.”

The Lifelong Learning Institute offers noncredit courses for senior adults in a range of subjects such as art, architecture, creative writing, contemporary issues, economics, film studies, history, literature, math, science, technology, music and philosophy. “We say you are never too old to learn something new, make a new friend or have fun,” Compton says. “You have to keep exercising the brain. Lifelong Learning is a health club for the brain.”

Even tackling medical school, or a muchabbreviated version, is something people can handle at any stage of life. Washington University’s Mini-Medical School offers people age 15 and older the chance to attend medical lectures and gain hands-on experience in the medical field.

“Continuous learning keeps us young by keeping our minds stimulated,” says Dr. Cynthia Wichelman, an associate professor of emergency medicine and course director for Mini-Medical School. Many folks attend MiniMed to become better healthcare consumers and learn how to take better care of themselves and family members, Wichelman says. “They feel more comfortable talking to their doctors during office visits, and they learn how to help care for a loved one who is ill. I have had a couple of students tell me they saved a life with the Heimlich maneuver or CPR training they received.” Many enroll just to enjoy the experience, she says. “I see students who take Mini-Medical School over and over.”

the time is now
Retirement years can open the doors to experiences that were out of reach during the demands of careers and raising families. “People who are highly educated in one field, like medicine or engineering, didn’t have the time to take classes in other subjects that interested them, like literature, history or music,” Compton says. “We have quite a few people who are filling in gaps they may have had in their earlier education. You can take something you never thought you would be good at—there are no grades and you don’t have to take tests, so why not?”

And classes can fulfill the edict to ‘exercise the brain’ for retirees. “One of my students said Mini-Med School challenges you to stretch your mind a bit to reach a new level,” Wichelman says. “One of our courses is in the Alzheimer’s lab, where we learn about testing. We go through memorization exercises with different levels of complexity.”

Then there’s the benefits of staying connected. Technology activities— computer and internet usage—keep people engaged and informed. “It is important that you not be left behind in the world,” Compton says. “The more you try to keep up, the better it will be.

stay connected
New hobbies and activities can lead to new relationships. “As we get older, it’s harder to make new friends, but at a place like Lifelong Learning, it’s easy because everybody is a senior and has come here for the same reason,” Compton says.

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