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ED GORDON, host:

Last week, NEWS AND NOTES kicked off our fitness series, and over the next few months, NPR's Farai Chideya will be taking us on a journey to healthy living. All right, Farai, how has it been going?

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Well, Ed, I'm determined to get fit and stay that way, but I've got plenty of questions, like, what is a healthy diet? We spoke with people outside a grocery store in Culver City, California and asked them what they think is a healthy diet.

Unidentified Woman #1: Don't fry anything. Grill or bake, grill, bake and steam.

Unidentified Woman #2: Moderation, smaller portions, low-fat, medium carbs, if you can handle it; medium sugar; general moderation and less food.

Unidentified Man #1: Vegetables, chicken, fish, and good exercise.

Unidentified Woman #3: Anything not fried, not fast food, but something quick like salads; just small portions too. See, we're overeaters. That's our problem.

Unidentified Woman #4: A healthy diet is eating six meals a day, little meals; it's raw fruit, vegetables, not that meat; eggs, toast.

Unidentified Man #2: Three balanced meals, trying not to interject too many snacks. I'm snickering because right now, I'm probably at least 20 pounds overweight.

CHIDEYA: It seems like people know the right things to eat, but then we asked them, do you follow your own advice?

Unidentified Woman #5: As best as I can, but I do cheat once in a while.

Unidentified Man #3: Now I do. I'm closing into 40 years old, so I have to be careful what I eat now.

Unidentified Woman #6: Most of the time. I try to watch, but I cheat, especially on pasta. I love pasta, even though that's sugar. But I love pasta. But I try. I make sure I drink a lot of water, because that helps clean the system real well.

CHIDEYA: Nutritionist Rovenia Brock, a.k.a. Dr. Ro, knows that eating well is easier said than done. She is an authority on fitness and diet, and she is here to tell us in practical ways to eat healthily and get fit. Hey, Dr. Ro.

Dr. ROVENIA BROCK (Nutritionist): Hi, Farai. It's a pleasure to be with you.

CHIDEYA: Let me just tell you a little bit about myself in a nutshell. I started gaining weight when I was six years old. I was just going through some childhood stress and I turned to the refrigerator for solace. And so I have been pretty much a little chubby kid, to a chubby adult, yo-yo dieter, up, down--and I'm just going to bust myself on the air here--I'm 239 pounds. I'm like Mack truck size. So what do I need to look out for with my history?

Dr. RO: Well, first, we want to stop the yo-yo dieting. I think you're going about this completely in the right way, in that you're now setting out to change your lifestyle forever. And in order to do that and to do it with some consistency, you really need to adopt a meal plan and a movement plan that you can live with in your real life, today, right now.

Just remember, first it is where you end up, not where you start out. So it doesn't matter where you are today. We can make changes over time, and then build on those changes such that you achieve the goals you want. But I want you to understand that it's a process. It's not going to happen overnight.

CHIDEYA: So why don't we start with the components of a healthy lifestyle. You mentioned moving and diet. What are really the components of a healthy lifestyle?

Dr. RO: You know, Farai, a lot of people think well, if I just go on this diet, it will be all over. I'll lose the weight, and my life will be wonderful. And in fact, about 60 to 70 percent of the process of living healthy is due to food or nutrition. The other 30 to 40 percent is really due to physical activity. And even that formula sort varies from person to person.

CHIDEAY: Let's talk about medical. I have been very lucky, very blessed to have good health. I have very few complaints. So it's easy for me to just say, okay, I can exercise as often and as strenuously as I am committed to. But, should you be evaluated by a doctor before beginning a new diet or fitness regime?

Dr. RO: I think everyone should be evaluated by a doctor, because you need some sort of a starting place for what your health status is. And then I think you should be followed by professionals, letting them know everything that you plan to do and that you're doing, whether or not you're going to exercise, to what extent you're going to do it, what you are going to eat, and the way you plan to do that. You need someone to monitor the physical activity as well as the food and nutrition aspect of this whole lifestyle plan that you are about to embark upon.

CHIDEYA: Let's go more into diet. I have a favorite date and it's called Fatkins. It's when you eat steak and salad for dinner, and you wake up the next day and you have donuts for breakfast. So let's talk about diet myths and facts. There are diets like Atkins, South Beach, Pritkin. What is a really healthy diet?

Dr. RO: The best form of a healthy diet is one where you include lots of fruits and vegetables and lots of green vegetables, and as many colors as you can get in a diet, with smaller amounts of lean protein in the forms of fish, chicken, turkey; it could even be soy; and then smaller amounts of whole grains.

So you don't want to cut out carbohydrates. And for the record, folks, vegetables and fruits are carbohydrate foods by the way. You don't want to cut carbs, but you do want to have complex carbs for energy, like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain cereals with smaller amounts of whole grain breads.

CHIDEYA: What about exercise? Walk us through what a good exercise plan might be for someone like me who is really trying to get in better shape?

Dr. RO: I advise to get moving by first putting one foot before the other and starting to walk. Now, for someone like you who is interested in going many steps further, who is a little bit more, perhaps adventurous, we can ramp up your activity with things that you like to do. For example, if mountain climbing is what you like to do, if mountain biking is what you like to do, if swimming, if hiking; all of those kinds of things, roller-blading; are things that you like to do, I say go for it.

CHIDEYA: Well, one of the great things about walking is that it's only as expensive as the price of a halfway decent pair of shoes. But a lot of people say, walking, what's that going to do for me?

Dr. RO: Your whole cardiovascular system is going to be improved by walking with consistency. I do it four to five days a week for a minimum of a half hour each time. I cover two to three miles in that time. But it will also strengthen your bones. It will strengthen your system, your whole body system. Did you know that you could reduce your blood pressure by 10 points walking an average of three days a week for a half hour each time. In that same half hour, you can reduce your blood sugar by 10 points.

So you can't do enough for your entire body by walking. In addition to that, you will burn calories. You will burn fat. And it will help you to tone. If you take on hills, if you take on more territory, if you rev up your walk and make it a brisk one rather than a leisurely one. And if you challenge yourself to increase time or distance, that's how you burn more calories. To increase time or distance, you will see that the weight will come off.

CHIDEYA: Well, that is a great start. I know that there's a lot more for us to cover, and I'm really committed to this. You will be happy to know that I have a brightly colored vegetable stir-fry that I made. So it's a process.

Dr. RO: Eureka!

CHIDEYA: Well, nutritionist Rovenia Brock's book is Dr. Ro's 10 Secrets to Living Healthy. Dr. Ro, it's great to talk to you, and thanks for the healthy tips.

Dr. RO: Always a pleasure.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya. If you'd like to hear the first installment of Farai's fitness challenge, go to our website at npr.org. Make sure to listen next week when Farai finds her inner yogi.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: That's our program for today. That's for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. And if you'd like to comment, call us at 202-408-3330. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

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