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Four Lessons in Fitness
from a Child
Give Yourself a Gold Star

Skateboard for Exercise!
How are you filling your spare time?

A friend of mine was struggling with her diet. Again. It was the fourth time she had tried in the last two years and she was just about to give up. Again.

"The problem is, I just can't stay motivated." She said. "I know what I need to do, but it's too much work."

At that moment, her seven-year-old son ran into the house, bursting with excitement. "Sarah, Tony and Matt are going to the skateboard park to play. Can I go too?"

"Of course." My friend said, "Just make sure to bring your helmet."

Bam! He was off. Running and skating as fast as his legs could carry him. For the next two hours, he exercised at least 800 calories off and didn't think for a minute it was "work."

That was the secret my friend had to learn. She had to stop looking at diet and exercise as a chore and turn it into something she looked forward to. She should approach it from the perspective of a child.

Start by giving yourself rewards. Put up a 30-day calendar on the refrigerator and buy yourself a box of stick-on stars. Every time you eat a healthy meal (lower in fat, sugar and under 500 calories), put a silver star on the day. Every time you eat something not on your diet, put a red star on the day. Whenever you go three consecutive days with nothing but silver stars, give yourself a gold star for your efforts.

If you're good for a week, give yourself two gold stars and allow yourself an indulgence. Watching the silver and gold stars add up becomes a reward in itself. You can see at a glance how you're doing and what meals or days of the week are most difficult. Use that information to make changes and become more successful.

Lesson one. Don't punish yourself when you fail. Reward yourself when you do well. Looking forward to gold stars is a lot better than feeling guilty every time you slip.

Silver StarSilver StarSilver StarSilver StarGold Star

Next, I needed to put a limit to the time my friend spent watching television or playing on the computer. Once a week, she would sit down with her son. They looked at the TV listings to see what's coming up. He's only allowed to watch 8 hours of TV a week, so he chooses carefully. (Did you know the average American watches over 40 hours of television a week? No wonder most people don't have time to workout!)

Once they have the shows selected, they use a Digital Video Recorder (like Tivo) to record their choices. If it was good enough for her son, why not for her? So she started picking out her shows along with her son.

Now that they're being recorded, she can watch them on her schedule, not the broadcast companies. What's better is that with the flick of a remote, a 60-minute show can be watched in only 46 minutes by skipping any ads she doesn't want to see.

Lesson two. There are only 24 hours in a day. Look at how you occupy those hours and dump the time wasters.

Next, we changed how my friend approached exercise. She hated doing cardio but saw it as a necessary evil. So I asked her what she used to enjoy as a little girl. "I loved to dance. The music, the costumes, the feeling when I was performing was all so exciting."

I picked up the phone book and opened the yellow pages to DANCE. There were options galore, all with convenient classes throughout the week. We signed her up.

But it doesn't have to be dance. You can take lessons in swimming, skiing, tennis, skating, judo, fencing, jump rope, or dozens of other activities that will get your heart pumping and your pulse rate higher. You don't have to talk kids into going outside to play during recess. For them, it's just fun. If you're doing cardio that's fun, you won't miss a chance to play.

Lesson three. Exercise gets a whole lot easier when you're doing something you enjoy. If you don't like what you're doing, look around. There are lots of other options.

My final goal was to find a way to keep her motivated. When you're young, everything is new. The experience of tasting a food for the first time. The exhilaration of staying up on a new bicycle, learning how to swim or diving into a pool. Those are the things that make us who we are. Why do new experiences have to stop when we become an adult?

To keep things interesting, give yourself a new challenge every three months. In the year since my friend starting her new approach, she's learned how to salsa, tango and today she's training for a 250-mile bike ride for charity.

To keep eating properly, she cooks one new healthy recipe a week. Now instead of the same old six healthy recipes she used to make, today she has dozens of options she can make in a minute.

Lesson four. Keep challenging yourself. The moment you stop setting new goals and trying new things is the moment that life starts winding down.

Follow these four simple lessons and you can get healthy; just by acting like a kid.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.