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As a nurse in Tyler, Texas, Deb Taylor, 38, was aware of the importance of a healthy diet and exercise. But for years she lived in denial, allowing her weight to top out at 320 pounds. "Finally I realized I wasn't happy and that it was up to me to change."
When she started walking regularly, results came quickly. "In a few months I went from barely being able to do 20 minutes on the treadmill to power walking a half-marathon [13 miles]!" She lost 170 pounds in one year.
It took a diagnosis of diabetes and the fear of not being around for her teenage daughters to get Renee Fisher, 55, moving. "That was a wake-up call to make some major adjustments in my life," says Renee, an office administrator in Pleasanton, California.
"I started out walking three days a week for 30 minutes at a time, then gradually worked up to 60 minutes, five to seven days a week." To date Renee has lost 26 pounds and plans to lose 15 more. "Now I wear a pedometer and strive for 10,000 steps a day."
Kristine Hansen, 34, of Milwaukee totaled her car last year and found herself without wheels. She had no choice but to get around on foot. "I realized that all of my usual destinations, like the grocery store, library, bank, post office, and drugstore, are within walking distance." The payoff: Kristine has quickly shed 17 pounds.
"When our family rescued a dog from the pound, I knew that taking her around the block for walks would make me healthier, but I didn't realize it was going to boost my creative energy as well," says Suzanne Maloch, 42, of Houston. "I get so many landscaping, gardening, and exterior paint ideas when I am out and about."
Plan to walk regularly with a friend or coworker and you're 76 percent more likely to stick with exercise. Find a route near your workplace (heart.org/start) and invite someone to join you on a lunchtime jaunt.
"I used to drive to the gym to get on a treadmill," says Pamela Oldham, a marketing executive in Round Rock, Texas. "What a waste of time. A neighbor and I decided to team up regularly for brisk walks in our area. Exercising outside with a friend and sharing the day's news is a lot more fun than indoor workouts. Plus, it's a great stress reducer."
Originally published in the April 17, 2009, issue of Family Circle magazine.