Question: I am now in my early '30s and have never been too concerned with my health and fitness level. However, as I get older, I get fatter and less fit. With the new year approaching, I would like to make a lifestyle change. What are some of the things I should do to change how I live so that I can take care of myself properly?

Answer: Everyone wants to be healthy! And, how you live can affect your health. In the early 1900s, the major causes of death were largely infectious diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis and influenza - diseases that were at that time difficult to control. Today, the major causes of death are related to how we live, and many are preventable through proper lifestyle choices.

Several years ago, Dr. Ted Adams, Dr. Frank Yanowitz and I wrote a book called "Maintaining the Miracle: An Owner's Manual for the Human Body." We reviewed hundreds of articles on health and fitness to determine what people should do to maintain health. From our research, we found that we could make recommendations for healthful lifestyle activities based upon how often they are needed to prevent disease and insure optimal health. I will discuss these activities under this classification below:

- Daily (or every other day) activities:

Some activities need to be done routinely to be effective. If you are not doing some of these things, gradually incorporate them into your schedule.

1. Exercise and become more active. This category can be divided into three main areas:

a. Aerobic exercise. Participate in some type of aerobic exercise three to five days a week for from 20 to 60 minutes a day. You should choose some large-muscle, rhythmic activity such as walking, jogging, swimming, cycling (or using an exercycle), or cross-country skiing (or using a cross-country ski machine). The exercise should be moderate, especially at first, at a heart rate from 70 to 85 percent of maximum (maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age).

b. Strength exercise. Scientists now recommend that all individuals include some type of strength training as part of their regular physical activity program. This becomes even more important as you get older and begin to lose muscle mass. Recent research has shown that many of the older patients in rest homes were able to benefit from strength training. Many were able to begin taking care of themselves; others were able to leave wheelchairs, and almost all increased their mobility.

Six or seven basic exercises can strengthen all of the major muscle groups of the body and take only minutes as part of your daily fitness program.

c. Flexibility. Usually a few stretching exercises should be included to maintain joint flexibility.

I will continue this discussion next week.