(This is an excerpt from the Healthy Hairdresser section published in the March 2014 issue of MODERN SALON.)

Exercise CautionWhen you make up your mind to become fit, typically you’re prepared to overhaul all of your bad habits. Not so fast, caution Peggy Mancini, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietitian at City of Hope, and Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness instructor. Going the distance with any major change requires easing into it.

“Really long and intense workouts after being sedentary for a while are a recipe for pain and injury,” says DePatie. “And any diet that restricts a food group results in a loss of nutrients unique to that group. The lost weight is unlikely to be kept off if it’s not an eating plan you can stick with.”

For somewhere to start, you might try exercise as the gateway improvement, suggests beauty and wellness expert Mary Beth Janssen, a certified MindBody Health educator for The Chopra Center for Well-Being and author of six books on the topic.

“Typically, people who exercise will then start eating better and become more productive at work,” Janssen reports. “They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”

Mancini and DePatie offer these ideas for a slow-and-steady improvement plan:
• Include one extra serving of fruit or vegetables a day, switch from full-fat to low-fat or nonfat dairy products and drop all sweetened beverages.
• Add ten percent effort per week to your workout. If you can comfortably break a sweat walking 10,000 steps today, increase that goal to 11,000 steps—but not more—by next week.
• Choose activities you enjoy. “If your exercise routine is boring, painful or just not fun, the TV will win every time,” says DePatie, who encourages people to go “fitness dating”—try a wide variety of activities before settling on the most enjoyable few to rotate to avoid falling into a rut.
• Keep a journal of your food intake and activity to help you monitor progress and continually set new goals. There are apps for that!
• Look beyond benchmarks; health is not just the number on the scale. “Changes in how you feel can occur after just a few minutes of exercise,” DePatie says. Mancini urges people to frame fitness as a “lifelong investment in themselves, their loved ones and others around them who will be inspired by their healthy habits.”

Your resolve will be worth it. “In the short term, exercise lifts your mood, helps you cope with stress, clears your mind, strengthens your memory, helps you sleep and helps you have a better sex life,” DePatie says. In the long term, adds Mancini, a healthy diet and exercise regimen reduce the risk of diabetes, many types of cancer, heart disease and hypertension.