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New Year Extreme Fitness Challenge offers path to health

Nutrition and fitness - eat right and take care of your body. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Naoko Shimoji)

Nutrition and fitness - eat right and take care of your body. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Naoko Shimoji)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- How badly do you want to lose? Weight, that is.

I wouldn't mind losing a few (OK, maybe more than a few) pounds, so I was literally the first person to sign up for the 2015 New Year Extreme Fitness Challenge that kicked off Jan. 5.

Conducted annually by the 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron's Health Promotions, the challenge allows individuals or four-person teams the chance to improve overall fitness in a friendly 12-week competition.

Kara Nesle, program coordinator and health technician at Health Promotions, said the challenge is ideal for those who have a goal to improve their fitness, but who aren't really sure how to do it.

She said competitors earn points for attending health and nutrition classes, tracking what they eat, exercising, and for losing pounds and inches off their waistline. She did stress, however, that the plan isn't for people to shed massive amounts of weight like they see on popular television weight-loss contests.

Focusing on nutrition, relaxation techniques and being given the motivation to try some new fitness approaches would be beneficial to anyone who signed up.

Nesle said she hopes people will learn to make lifestyle changes that will impact them for years to come.

I'm hoping to be one of them. One of my goals when I took my job on Okinawa last summer was to start working out again now that I've hit my mid-40s. Last week, I visited Health Promotions for my weigh-in and to have my abdominal circumference measured.

I also signed up for five weeks' worth of Better Body, Better Life classes, and took a hypertension class on Thursday.

From what I've seen so far, the classes are an awesome way to drive home the basics. I'm sure I could have easily guessed that fatty, hi-calorie foods and a high-salt diet don't go hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle. But the instructors - Nesle and registered dietitian Bret Kugler - presented the information in a way that hit home through an interactive conversation with participants.

They've sure got me taking a much closer look at nutrition labels.

My favorite lunch, for example, has now been cut from my diet. Those two crunchy tacos contained 340 calories and, almost more disturbingly, 700 milligrams of sodium. Since I learned in class that I should be aiming for 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium intake daily, consuming nearly half of it with in one sitting doesn't seem like a good idea.

During his class on hypertension, Kugler ran through a whole list of consequences of not living healthy, to include high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage and more.

Nesle said it's not too late to sign up, and anyone interested could call her at 634-2499.

I asked Nesle what advice she had for anyone tackling the fitness challenge this year, and she provided her favorite quote.

"If it's important, you'll find a way," she said. "If it's not, you'll find an excuse."