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Tiny steps can bring big benefits

By Linda Ciampa
Special to CNN
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Think small lifestyle changes can't mean big results? Well, consider the case of Diane Borganzi from Everett, Massachusetts. Eighteen months ago, Borganzi weighed more than 200 pounds. She's now 73 pounds lighter, thanks in part to a diet -- but also to an exercise regimen -- the first in her entire life. "I do tai chi one day a week. I do country-Western line dancing with my sister. I love them both. They're so different," Borganzi says.

Borganzi moved -- literally -- in a healthier direction after her doctor recommended she start taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. "I never exercised before, but I didn't want to have to take Lipitor, so I knew I had to eat right and do some sort of exercise." Her daughter "dragged" her to tai chi, but Borganzi enjoys exercising so much now that she's added walking, three times a week.

It's the kind of success story Fabio Comana likes to hear -- but doesn't hear often enough. Comana, an exercise physiology instructor at two San Diego, California, universities, says too many people feel intimidated about exercising. And yet, he says, there are plenty of opportunities to burn calories without hitting the gym. "Take your lunch, walk 10 minutes down to the park, eat there and walk 10 minutes back. Do some errands by foot instead of car." (Watch tips for working out if you're overweight. Video )

Comana says even carrying a basket in the grocery store, instead of pushing a cart, can make a difference. "Ask yourself this question: From the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, are there opportunities to put in physical activity?"

Where to start? Registered dietitian Nicole Kerr recommends buying a pedometer -- a device that counts steps. "If you're only doing 2,000 steps a day, we're going to work on a goal of increasing your steps maybe 100 each week." And make no mistake about it, steps -- in all respects -- add up: "If you spend 10 minutes a day going up and down the steps instead of taking the elevator, you can actually lose about 10 pounds over the course of a year," says Kerr, provided you keep your calorie intake constant.

Kerr, a nutrition and wellness consultant in Hawaii, says it's also important to emotionally reframe the idea of exercise. "We need to say, 'I'm going to find an activity that I think is fun and practical for my lifestyle, and I'm going to do something that I enjoy each and every day.' "

Along those lines, Kerr defines exercise in broad and simple terms -- anything from cutting up veggies instead of buying pre-packaged ones, to weeding the garden, washing the floor, even walking to the mailbox. And, she says, don't discount dancing: "Any time you're listening to music, it seems to take away the element of 'I really don't want to be doing this.' You get lost in the moment," Kerr says.

And at the same time, you just might lose some weight.

Linda Ciampa is a registered nurse and freelance health writer.

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It's easy to be intimidated by the idea of exercising, especially if you're overweight.

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