New Year's resolutions and resolving to lose weight or at least start living a healthier lifestyle are probably on everyone's list of things they'd like to accomplish. However, just a few weeks into the New Year, many of those resolutions are probably already forgotten or abandoned.

Is there a better way to hang on to those resolutions? The Coaldale TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) chapter hoped to find out. Karen Werner Otto, a pediatric nurse practitioner with St. Luke's Rural Health Centers, addressed the group at its weekly meeting about how to set and hang onto realistic resolutions.

She spoke from her own experiences, as a woman with a busy family and career, and as a health professional.

"It's really about fitting positive changes into your lifestyle," she said. "It needs to be really important and you need to build it into your lifestyle."

Werner Otto got her wake-up call when she had her first daughter. During the pregnancy, she became severely ill.

"At only 24, I had hypertension and preeclampsia (a condition during pregnancy that includes high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It can result in complications for the mother and the unborn child)," she said. "The doctor came in and she said, 'You really need to make some changes in your life.'

"At the time, I wasn't severely overweight, but I didn't watch my diet. I didn't exercise. It was hard to admit, but I really needed to make those changes."

Werner Otto was busy with graduate school and taking care of a newborn, but listened to her doctor.

"I started walking, just down to the end of the block and back. After a few weeks, I was walking two or three blocks," she said.

As her family grew to include more children, four in all, Werner Otto said that she needed to change her routine to accommodate the changes in her life.

"I've done different things, joined gyms, joined groups of women exercising, like Curves." Now, she says that she has to exercise every day or she just doesn't feel good. Her routine is varied and includes cardio activities, free weights, or sometimes just using workout tapes and doing routines at home. She says the keys for a successful program include finding something that works for you, putting it on your schedule, and incorporating something that you enjoy doing into your routine.

Werner Otto tries to work out five days a week. Several of those workouts are done at a gym, where she says the peer pressure of knowing that other people are looking for her to be there helps her commit to her routine. At least one day a week, she does another activity, like taking her dog for a walk, or walking with her family at a place like Beltzville Park.

"I know my workout. I know what I have to get in," she says. "I know I need so much time in my schedule every day. If you don't plan it, it won't happen."

She stressed the importance of taking little steps and changing the activities that you participate in over time. "I used to be all about doing the cardio and burning the calories," she said, "but I've learned that toning your mid section, your core, is really good for your body."

Keeping that focus on yourself is also a key part of sticking to your goals.

"Working out is something I do just for me," she said. Making the experience enjoyable helps: put on your headphones and jam out, find a workout video that you enjoy watching, or go to a place that you find relaxing or fun to walk around."

Making small changes to your eating habits can have a big impact as well. Werner Otto says that she always is sure to drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day.

"I take them everywhere," she says. "I also use those no-calorie flavor packets."

Making small cuts in every day routines can also help. By switching from skim milk to low-calorie creamer in her coffee, Werner Otto said she was able to cut out about 800 calories from her diet every week.

"Don't deprive yourself, but be honest." Eating out can also result in a calorie overload, but Werner Otto said there is no reason to avoid it. "Just be smart about it. Skip the bread basket. Have a nice salad, or even if you do order an entrée, leave some of it on the plate."

She also recommends planning your menu for the week, and including events like eating out.

"If you know you're going to do it, you can save your calories for that."

When planning meals, Werner Otto recommends variety.

"Switch it up." By trying to meet the daily recommendations for fruits, vegetables, and grains, there are a lot of options out there. Not being bored with your selections is also a great way to keep yourself on track with your diet changes.

The benefits of exercise and improving your diet are not just seen on the scale.

"It's important to your bone structure, your skin, your longevity," she said. "Start with little goals. Little positive changes. It is all good for you."

Werner Otto advised not getting discouraged if the scale doesn't move at first or if you cheat a little bit.

"It's a lifelong thing that most people deal with. You have to find a balance. Take a deep breath and say, 'I'm going to try to do this every day.'" The rewards will soon become evident, she adds.

Several TOPS members found her recommendations helpful. Vanessa Hertzog appreciated Werner Otto's strategy of getting her workout over with first thing in the morning.

"That's an issue for me," Hertzog said. "I like getting it over with and then you don't have to worry about it.

Kathy Ruff, the chapter leader, said that she agrees that if you don't plan it, it won't happen.

"I always am finding other things to do. I need to just do it first thing and then it's done and over." Ruff also appreciated the advice to make little changes every day.

Werner Otto earned her diploma in nursing from St. Luke's School of Nursing, a BSN from Columbia University and a MSN from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently working toward a doctorate through the University of Massachusetts.

The Coaldale chapter of TOPS meets at St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital every Wednesday, and typically features guest speakers on the third Wednesday of every month. Upcoming topics include reading labels and exercise.

For more information, contact Kathy Ruff, at (570) 645-3059 or e-mail at katrina@ptd.net [1].