Have you ever felt you needed a complete exercise overhaul? In the hopes of making this year’s resolutions stick, we thought we’d introduce three women in need of some get-in-shape guidance to personal fitness trainer Gerry Stoneman of Boulder, Colorado. Stoneman, who has been helping people lead healthier lives for 18 years, analyzed our participants’ lifestyles and fitness goals, and then prescribed realistic exercise plans to get them on the road to wellness. “When it comes to fitness, I’ve never been into gimmicks, quick fixes, or ‘guaranteed’ schemes,” says Stoneman. “If you make the time, tap into your energy, and keep a healthy attitude, fitness can be a part of your every day life.”

Next, we asked medical nutrition and behavior therapist Susan Cukiernik, a registered dietitian with 20 years experience, to weigh in on what each person should do to improve her eating habits. “My philosophy is to eat as natural as you can,” says Cukiernik, who maintains a private practice in Manhattan. “Don’t eat packaged foods or anything artificial. I also recommend a lean-protein diet, eating foods that are low on the glycemic index, and eating smaller, more frequent meals. And drink plenty of fluids.” Cukiernik’s insight ensured that our three subjects were feeding their bodies the right foods to prepare for their new active lifestyles.

Following are the workouts and diet plans Stoneman and Cukiernik recommend. Find the one you most identify with, make a few tweaks to fit your lifestyle, and learn how you, too, can make 2004 your healthiest year.

Fitness makeover #1: Sally Bell

Age: 55
Profession: Writer
Height/weight: 5' 9", 183 pounds

Pre-makeover lifestyle: An avid hiker, Sally walks three to four times a week for up to two hours at a time. However, a year and a half ago, Sally had hip surgery and hasn’t yet fully recovered her strength, speed, and endurance. “I have pain when I hike for more than two hours,” she says. “Only sometimes I can hike for three hours if I’ve stretched really well.” Sally currently has physical therapy four to five times a week in a pool, and bikes about once a week, but she says she doesn’t have the stamina to ride her bike up hills or to hike as hard as she’d like.

Fitness goals: Sally would like to be 20 to 30 pounds lighter, but her real goal is to hike some of Colorado’s high mountain peaks by next summer.

Fitness history: “I can go the distance, but I don’t go fast,” says Sally, noting that she’s tired of always being the last one up the hill on group hikes. “So, often I prefer to hike alone because I don’t like holding people up.” When asked about going to the gym, Sally remarks, “Why ride an exercise bike if I can get out there? Why run a treadmill if I can hike outdoors?”

Current diet: “Probably not as healthy as it should be,” admits Sally. She eats meat and a medium amount of vegetables every day. She often cooks for herself so she can keep healthy food in the refrigerator. She loves dairy, and eats low-fat milk and cheese. Sally also attends a lot of social potluck dinners where she says she often overeats.

Our Advice
Workout: Stoneman says that Sally’s goal of hiking Colorado’s high-elevation mountains is realistic. To achieve this, Sally should add an hour of balance work and weight-training exercises to her regimen twice a week to increase joint and muscle strength and avoid injury. “The pool work and the biking don’t strengthen Sally’s hips enough to climb those mountains,” says Stoneman. “The main cause of hip or joint injuries is unstable body parts.” Balance exercises using a fit ball and balance board can help strengthen the ligaments and surrounding muscles in the joints. Plus, Stoneman believes oxygen capacity can be improved by strengthening the abdominal and lower-back region. “When you open up the body’s core area with these specific exercises, you feel like you can breathe easier and more efficiently,” she says.

Sally is also facing other issues common among women in their 50s. “Women Sally’s age are challenged with the onset of menopause and the chance of getting osteoporosis and other bone and joint problems. No matter what their fitness goals may be, all women at this age would benefit from weight training,” says Stoneman. Most recreation centers have fitness instructors on staff who can show clients what exercises to do and get them on a specific training plan. Because Sally doesn’t like exercising inside a gym, she can learn the exercises from a professional, purchase some basic equipment (a fit ball costs roughly $25, and many come with an instructional video), and do the exercises at home. If Sally increases strength in her hips, muscles, and leg joints, this will allow her to keep up with her hiking group and give her confidence to continue climbing higher.

Diet: Sally gets high marks from our experts on nutrition because she eats a fairly balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables. “And she still manages to get her dairy, which is important to ward off osteoporosis,” says Stoneman. The recommended amount of calcium for women in their 50s is 1,500 mg daily (women in their 20s to 50s should consume 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg daily). Registered dietitian Susan Cukiernik also suggests whole-food calcium from sources such as yogurt and green leafy vegetables.

Fitness makeover #2: Cara Hopkins

Age: 28
Profession: Research assistant
Height/weight: 5' 6", 150 pounds

Pre-makeover lifestyle: Cara works ten-hour days and commutes two hours total each day. Because of many recent changes in her life—a new job, a new relationship, and moving to a new town—combined with a hectic work schedule, she’s gained 20 pounds in the last year.

Fitness goals: “I don’t really care how much weight I lose,” says Cara. “I just want to feel and look better.” Cara also wants to gain stamina and endurance, and feel more energetic throughout the day. “I’m exhausted from stress at work and the commute during the week.”

Fitness history: A little bit of everything. Cara has tried dance, weight lifting, yoga, and aerobics, but has yet to find an activity that keeps her interested and motivated to continue exercising.

Current diet: “I eat a lot of comfort food,” admits Cara. Her favorites include cheese, bread, coffee, fruit, pasta, salads, nuts (tamari almonds are her favorite), eggs, and vegetarian bacon. “I used to be a vegetarian, so I guess it’s a habit to not eat much meat.”

Workout: Because Cara works and commutes long hours each day, Stoneman says Cara’s best option is to exercise during her lunch hour. Fitting in a workout during the day is more practical than telling yourself you’ll exercise after a full day on the job when you’re exhausted, says Stoneman. “Plus, when you work out past 7 or 8 p.m., your body has a difficult time adjusting to a normal sleep pattern. You almost feel restless and can’t sleep, which could lead to overeating at night.” The endorphins and higher metabolic rate that Cara will get from a midday workout will also help alleviate her work stress.

“Going for a midday power walk for at least 30 minutes does wonders for energy levels,” says Stoneman, who recommends Cara find a workout buddy from the office who will help her commit to making the lunch hour part of her daily exercise regimen. All she needs is a change of clothes and a comfortable pair of walking shoes stuffed in a bag under her desk and she’s ready to go.

Strength-training exercises are also crucial for Cara to burn fat and build strong bones and muscles. Because Cara doesn’t have access to a gym or a health club during the day, Stoneman recommends staying outside after her walk and incorporating outdoor strength moves into her workout. Beneficial and easy-to-do exercises include push-ups (do them against a floor, a wall, or on a grassy field), triceps dips (use a park bench for support), and abdominal crunches (also do these on a grassy field or park area). “These strength moves will really rev up Cara’s metabolism,” says Stoneman. “And Cara can finish her walk and exercises in 45 minutes and still have time to clean up and get back to the office.”

Because most of us, including Cara, don’t have access to a shower at our workplace, Stoneman suggests Cara keep a box of baby wipes in her workout bag to freshen up before getting back into her work clothes. Then, Cara can have a healthy lunch at her desk while she’s still invigorated from her workout.

Diet: Both Stoneman and Cukiernik agree that Cara will likely lose weight and feel more energetic if she incorporates twice as much protein into her diet. Cukiernik says that everyone, no matter what age or gender, needs 45 to 55 grams of protein per day. “An ounce of meat, fish, or eggs has seven grams of protein,” says Cukiernik. (Note: A recommended serving size of lean meat, chicken, or fish is two to three ounces.) “Eating six ounces of fish or meat a day would be 42 grams of protein. Add an egg to that, and you’d have 49 grams of protein for the day.”

Cara should also eat less pasta and bread, say both our experts. “These simple carbohydrates quickly convert to sugar, raise insulin levels in the body, and cause a ‘bonking’ feeling about an hour after you’ve eaten,” says Stoneman. Better choices would be moderate portions of whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, quinoa, millet, or amaranth.

For snack foods, Cara may want to cut back on her favorite tamari almonds, which are high in protein but also calories. Instead, Cara could alternate between nuts and fruit and vegetables, such as an apple or celery. Overall, if Cara eats more lean protein throughout the day, she’ll have more energy and increase her motivation to exercise at lunch.

Fitness makeover #3: Bethany Siegler

Age: 39
Profession: Entertainment marketing consultant
Height/weight: 5' 3", 118 pounds

Pre-makeover lifestyle: Bethany’s current energy level is low. She crashes hard at the end of the day and sleeps for long periods of time. She also tires easily. “If I carry anything up the stairs of my house, like a load of laundry, I get so winded that I can’t catch my breath,” she says.

Fitness goals: Bethany wants to strengthen her lungs and increase her energy. “I am less concerned with a number on a scale than I am with being toned and healthy,” she says.

Fitness history: Bethany has shied away from exercise throughout most of her life for fear she’ll be inadequate in whatever she pursues. “I have a very small lung capacity, a lack of coordination, and a frail frame,” she says. “I get injuries when I do things other people do without any harm to their bodies.” One form of exercise she used to love is dancing, and she took occasional modern jazz classes in high school. At dance clubs, she says she was “always the first on and last one off the dance floor.”

Current diet: Bethany is a vegetarian, leaning toward vegan. Her diet consists mostly of breads, vegetables, rice, beans, soups, dried fruit, and crackers, though she is trying to cut down on starchy foods to increase her energy level. “My diet isn’t working,” says Bethany. “I am always hungry, even after I eat.”

Workout: “If dance is something Bethany enjoys, then she should do it,” says Stoneman, stressing that exercise should never feel like a chore or else a person won’t stick with it. “We all need to get back to our roots and find out what makes our bodies tick as individuals,” she says. Stoneman suggests Bethany put on a great rockin’ CD at home and spend at least a half-hour dancing to it, three nights a week. “She should work up a good sweat. Bethany will feel so rejuvenated by the end of the dance time, she won’t even know she exercised.” The 30 to 45 minutes of dancing will be the equivalent to an aerobics class and will help Bethany feel less winded doing chores around the house.

If the intensity of the dancing—or any physical activity—becomes difficult to maintain (for example, if Bethany is huffing and puffing and doesn’t think she can continue), Stoneman suggests that Bethany check her heart rate to make sure she’s not putting too much stress on her heart. To do this, she should first count her pulse beats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by four to calculate beats per minute. Next, she should find her maximum heart-rate zone by subtracting her age from 220. The lower limit of the “safe zone” for Bethany would be her maximum heart rate (220 minus her age, 39, = 181) multiplied by 50 percent (181 x .50 = 90.5). The upper limit for Bethany would be her maximum heart rate (181) multiplied by 75 percent (181 x .75 = 135.75). If Bethany’s heart rate during exercise is within that range, the huffing and puffing is good for her. If she starts to exceed that zone, she should slow down.

Bethany should also consider weight training, says Stoneman, to build up much-needed strength. “Weight training is simply the ideal choice for women to remain strong, lean, and disease-free,” says Stoneman. “It not only helps maintain weight, but it’s great for sports performance as well.” And if Bethany finds a workout partner, either for dance sessions at home, weekend hikes, or weight training, she is also more apt to stay with her fitness plan and look forward to exercising.

Diet: Bethany also needs to incorporate the recommended 45 to 55 grams of protein per day into her diet. “As a vegan or even a vegetarian, you’ve got to make good choices with regards to protein,” says Cukiernik, who suggests Bethany combine proteins and carbohydrates in meals, such as pairing beans and rice or eating soups that contain rice, millet, or quinoa. “Bethany is also not getting much variety in terms of foods,” says Cukiernik. “And getting variety helps guarantee more optimal nutrition.” Cukiernik suggests Bethany eat meals such as vegetable-based gazpacho or ratatouille, both of which offer a high concentration of vitamins.

Because Bethany is a vegetarian, Cukiernik also suggests she take supplemental vitamin B12, the only B vitamin not found in plant sources. This vitamin is essential for cell division, blood formation, and a healthy nervous system. Bethany might also add omega-3 fatty acids to her diet from walnuts and walnut oil, pumpkin seeds, and ground flax seeds. Those who aren’t vegetarian can get omega-3s from salmon, halibut, and other cold-water fish. And instead of munching on crackers and dried fruit, Bethany should instead stock up on almonds and walnuts, yogurt, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Stoneman believes these foods will boost Bethany’s energy level and enthusiasm to crank up the tunes and boogie her way to better health.