It's the new year, and there's going to be a new you ' but it's not just for 2008, so don't even try to get it all done this year. New Year's resolutions often don't stick when we try to make lifestyle overhauls overnight. So while January 2008 is a good time to start, you can pace yourself throughout the year ' and even into 2009. What follows are a few tips to help you begin to take small steps toward better health for the rest of your life; The Independent Weekly will be working with you through the first part of the year, as we also prepare to compete in the Corporate Cup at River Ranch on Friday, May 9, the culmination of our newly-launched corporate fitness program.

The key factor in achieving a healthier lifestyle is that you have to be ready for change. If you're aren't ready, you'll need to work up that mindset. That's just what the employees at The Onebane Firm are doing in preparation for the Corporate Challenge. Led by team captain Jane Guidry, the firm has been spreading the word to its 73 employees and by Friday, Jan. 4, Guidry hopes to have a final count on the number of employees who will be participating. "I personally think it's easier to make an exercise commitment by making it a fun, team effort," she says.

Onebane is planning a kickoff breakfast for its participants on Feb. 29 at which time it will be handing out T-shirts that read, "Onebane: Firm in Training." (By the end of this week, the Corporate Challenge training guide will be posted at www.indevents.com, which includes a wealth of information about the program and how you can get involved).

Finding a partner or teaming up is your first step. Most health experts say that if you know someone is counting on you ' or waiting for you at the gym ' you're more inclined to keep the commitment. Once your new fitness program is under way, you may be more comfortable going solo. And the second step, by virtue of the "requirements" of the Corporate Cup, is that you will be asked to make a public commitment to your health ' well, at the very least you're making a commitment to your company. (And who wants to let the boss down?)

Set realistic goals and write them down. Want to drop 10 pounds this year? Schedule how you're going to accomplish it, and be patient with your results.

The next step ' yes, it's the one you always hear about ' is to start every day with breakfast, whether it's a boiled egg, yogurt, fresh fruit or a combination of all of these. The Corporate Challenge's event producer, longtime triathlete Gerd Wuestemann, prefers to exercise before eating breakfast. Don't eat late at night and your body will be calorie-deprived from the hours you've spent sleeping, which means you will tend to burn calories faster. And because Wuestemann's metabolic rate is up after a workout, he burns even more calories when he eats. He suggests trying to eat protein within 20 minutes of your workout for maximum benefit.

Walk, walk, walk. Walk everywhere. Take the stairs. Don't ride around looking for the closest spot in the parking lot. Power walking is best, but don't get discouraged by the lack of immediate results from walking; the benefits of power walking sometimes take a while to show up. If you can, eventually work up to a slow jog after a few months of steady walking. You'll be pleasantly surprised how easy running can be if you start very slowly, and you'll be amazed at the results. If you feel good, pick up the pace.

Buy an inexpensive, manual stepper. It's compact and easy to store, and if you spend any time in front of the television, you have absolutely no excuse for not exercising. Do the stepper while you watch; 30 minutes is a good start.

Keep a few hand weights handy, too. Work your arms and use them for other resistance exercises while you're in front of the TV. (If you have access to a gym, always try to get a little weight training in. Your body will continue to burn calories for hours after you've put the weights down.)

Eliminate soft drinks and other sugary drinks. One Coke a week might not hurt you, but it certainly won't help you. These sugary carbonated beverages are about the worst thing you can put in your body; the diet versions are no better. Drink water instead.

Steer clear of processed foods. If it comes in a box, can, bag or carton, it's likely processed. The World Health Organization says processed foods are to blame for the sharp rise in obesity and chronic diseases seen around the world. Eat fresh foods whenever possible.

And keep healthy snacks handy. Don't let yourself get famished or you'll risk overeating. If you're hungry during the day, your best bet is to snack on fresh fruits or nuts (limit your intake by measuring out small amounts in Ziploc bags that you can keep in your car or at your desk). Nuts, a unique combination of fats, carbohydrates, proteins and fiber ' along with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals ' help suppress your appetite by making you feel full. Pistachios are the lowest in fat and calories.

Mix up your exercise program. Don't get in the habit of doing the same thing over and over again or you risk burnout. If you're walking regularly, try substituting one or two days on the Stairmaster or another machine that will work different muscles and prevent you from getting bored.

If you do nothing else this year, stop saying you don't have time. A 15 or 20 minute workout is way better than nothing at all. And if it requires that you say no to certain commitments, do it.

If you fall off the wagon, get back on. Don't be discouraged by a day or two of overeating or missed workouts. Everyone has setbacks.

To succeed at your goals, you'll need to keep score by monitoring your success with a charting system. Lafayette insurance agent Gene Fortier, who also has committed to the Corporate Challenge, has his own way of keeping tabs on his health and weight. "I weigh in every day," he says. "I have a chart at the gym with the date, number of miles I walk, my weight." If you stop weighing in, weight can easily creep up and set you back to square one before you realize what's happened. Says Fortier, "My choke point is 200 [pounds.] Once I hit 200, I put the brakes on."

Finally, don't go overboard and don't try to do too much too soon. If you over-eat one day, cut back the next. If you feel great and can run three miles on Monday, it's OK to skip exercise on Tuesday. "For me exercise is a wonderful thing if I can balance it with a pretty normal lifestyle," says Wuestemann. "I like to eat; I love wine. I train a lot, but I balance it with a completely normal schedule."

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