The temperature's dropping, the leaves are turning, and you're about to face another season of creeping holiday pudge. It starts out slow, but after a few months of nibbles–Halloween candy, Thanksgiving stuffing, classroom party treats, and all those delicious holiday desserts–most folks pile on 7 to 10 pounds.
But there's a way to ward off the "holiday 10" before the feasts hit, and that's by shoring up your body's fat-fighting defenses now. Atoned body burns calories at a much higher rate than a flabby one. Another bonus is that getting in shape will give you extra energy for juggling holiday obligations. And you can do it without spending a fortune on a fancy gym or personal trainer.

One of the best-kept fitness secrets is that with a little planning and effort, you can get fit all by yourself. We've asked three top trainers to teach you the basics and suggest the best resources for creating a practical, effective fitness plan you can easily follow, change when you get bored, and stick with for life.
Find Your Motivation

To begin, tackle the single issue that contributes to the failure of most fitness plans–motivation. The idea, experts say, is to concentrate on issues other than diet, exercise, or even health. "What's your driving force? What do you want to achieve in life?" asks GillianHood-Gabrielson, a fitness coach and motivation expert who says that studies show people can't be "scared fit." Instead, it's looking forward to living better that keeps people moving.

Hood-Gabrielson's approach is exactly what keeps Bronx, New York, dance teacher and NEA member Beverly Spencer fit and on her feet, even when the demands of the classroom wear her down. "Dance is my motivating factor," says Spencer, who once performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem;#39;s Workshop, Ensemble. "It's a creative art form, and anything I can do that's creative is very important to me."
Spencer stays active teaching West African dance to K-4 students at Community School 66 in the Bronx. She's also found a new fun way to stay fit by adding belly dancing to her workouts. Rather than just seeing it as a great way to burn calories–which it is–Spencer considers it "a reward, because I'm learning a new form of dance."

Four Steps to Fitness

To create a self-guided plan that fuels your passions and makes your holidays healthier, try these four steps.
GET IN TOUCH WITH REALITY. Buy a journal. Record goals, motivating factors, starting measurements, and eating plans, and then chart your progress–all what a good trainer would do for you. Next, "set measurable, achievable goals," advises Hood-Gabrielson, who's also founder of and an expert on intuitive eating. "Don't start with, 'I'm going to lose 40 pounds.' Begin with doable, weekly goals." Avoiding the stress of unrealistic expectations is one of the keys to a successful plan. Losing two pounds a week is both healthy and realistic.

LEARN YOUR BODY'S BASICS. Weigh and measure yourself, suggests Justin Price, the IDEA Health and Fitness Association's Personal Trainer of the Year and a biomechanics expert. If stepping on the scale makes you crazy, Price suggests using the fit of a favorite outfit as a guideline throughout your program. Or measure your ability to perform daily activities: How many stairs can you climb before you're out of breath? How far can you carry your groceries? How long can you ride your bike or jog with your dog? Record your stamina level and check itas you progress.

PROTECT YOURSELF. To exercise safely, Price suggests these assessments: Check your feet. Are you flat-footed? Do you turn your foot inward as you stand or walk? If so, use an orthotic device in your sneakers to stabilize your gait. Also check your hip and back alignment. Good is critical. To test yours, against a wall and place your heels, buttocks, head, and shoulders against it. Then place your open hands on each pelvic bone, with your fingertips facing in toward each other. Bring your fingers together until your index and middle finger touch. Look down and rotate your pelvis up, pulling in your stomach, until you can see your middle finger. That stance should be your proper posture.

DESIGN YOUR PLAN. Everyone needs cardiovascular conditioning, toning, and resistance training, and there are tons of ways to accomplish that goal, Price stresses. In addition to the plans listed below, try out a range of exercise videos and add them to your routine for variety, or check out the cable network fitness shows. You can also log onto the Web to find exercises and learn how to move properly. The President's Council on Physical Fitness ( is free, while Plus One Active (, which includes a library of 800 moves, costs $10.

ONE IMPORTANT THING. If you haven't been working out regularly, check with your doctor before starting any program, no matter how gentle.
Work Your Plan

Here are a few basic exercises to get you started. Add or subtract new activities every six months or so, after your body gets used to certain moves. Each workout should include:
* a 5- to 10-minute WARMUP
* five minutes of STRETCHING
* at least 30 minutes of CARDIOVASCULAR training three times a week to start (work up to five days and 45 minutes, or an hour if you want to lose lots of weight)
* upper and lower body RESISTANCE training at least three times a week, and
* three to five minutes COOL DOWN.

Feel like you're losing your motivation? Crack open your journal and reread your goals.

BEGINNER. Just walk. "Sedentary people take about 4,500 steps a day," says Sheri Colberg-Ochs, a professor and an expert in exercise physiology. "Buy a pedometer, record your steps, and try to add 2,000 steps–that's about a mile, or a few times around your typical school hallway." For resistance training, "you can use water bottles or full soup cans," Colberg-Ochs explains. Just make sure they're equal in weight. Visit the President's Council site for basic upper body moves.

Work the stairs. "Walk up one flight, stop, hold onto a handrail for balance, and do 10 squats. Go back down the flight, hold the rail and do 10 lunges on each leg," advises personal trainer Neal Pire, a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and advisor to Plus One Active. Start out with five flights, progress to 10 after two weeks, and so on. For advanced work, increase the number of repetitions.

For resistance training, wrap an intermediate-level resistance band around a stationary object. Hold one end of the resistance band in your left hand and one in your right hand, then back up until the bands are flexing your muscles. Now bring both your hands to one side of your waist and make a circular motion as if you're paddling a canoe. Do 10 reps on each side; work up to 15. For more advanced work, buy advanced-level bands to increase the level of resistance.

Keep It Flexible

If you don't like exercise equipment or just want a change of pace, take your workout outside or try a fun new activity. Bike, hike, or take a dancing class and learn to samba–just make sure you increase your endurance and frequency over time, Pire says. No matter what approach you choose, "there's no such thing as failure," Price says. "Increasing your level of movement will enhance every aspect of your life." Not to mention letting you sip your eggnog and nosh on those cookies with confidence.

The nose has it: NEA member tip.

Stress can make it impossible to stick with any healthy living plan. Yet it's a way of life for most teachers, says dance teacher Beverly Spencer. Spencer's answer to those days when a pint of ice cream and a slab of pound cake seem like the only solution to classroom-related stress is aromatherapy. Here are her two favorite recipes for calming the nerves and heading off stress-related munching.

LAVENDER OIL. Place one drop in the palm of one hand. Rub in three small circles, and then rub your hands together. Cup your hands over the nose and mouth and inhale and exhale deeply, at least three times.

MIXED BLENDS. Blend one or two drops each of tangerine, orange, ylang-ylang, patchouli, and blue tansy oils in your palm, the follow the same breathing procedure.
Aromatherapy oils can be found at most health food stores. "Always be sure to use therapeutic grade essential oils with no additives," Spencer says.