Hiker in Claremont Canyon.

By Susan Helmrich

It’s four days into the New Year. How are you doing with your fitness goals?

As a health and wellness coach in Berkeley, I have seen every type of resolution, from people vowing to eat fewer fatty foods and to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables to planning to work out for hours each day. But sweeping New Year’s resolutions generally don’t do much good. Most of us have the best intentions in January to make significant changes in our lives, but by the first week of February we are usually back to our old ways.

The best way to make changes in your life is to set S.M.A.R.T Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-dependent). It’s much more likely that you will get fitter, reduce your stress, or eat a healthier diet, if you break down these concepts into manageable, more realistic and smaller pieces.

Take the case of one of my clients, for example. The 44-year old mother of two boys came to see me in early 2010 as she waited for her insurance company to approve her application for bariatric surgery. She had already lost 50 pounds on a severely calorie-restricted diet, but was wavering in her dedication because she did not think she could continue eating that way much longer. As she was waiting for the red tape to clear, we reviewed her activity levels and food consumption. She worked a desk job that involved commuting to San Francisco, so she rarely exercised. I helped her create a plan where she would walk at every opportunity. Soon she was putting on her tennis shoes at every break and at lunch and was pounding the pavement. She also worked on eating well and controlling her portions.

Today, one year after starting our work together, she has lost 81 lbs. She never did get the bariatric surgery.

It’s not effective to say, “I want to eat better and exercise more.” That goal is too vague. It is more effective to set specific goals like “I will bring a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread to lunch three days this week or “I will go to a spin class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

Here are some of my recommendations for a healthy and well 2011.

Get a pedometer and work up to walking 10,000 steps per day. There are great little hikes and hidden paths tucked away all over Berkeley. One of the best hikes you can do is the Claremont Canyon section of the fire trail. Depending upon how far you want to go, this can be a short-duration, high-intensity aerobic workout (It ascends 400 feet in a very short time) or you can make it into a longer 4-mile or so walk.

To get to the trailhead, go up Claremont Avenue, past the turnoff for Peet’s (Claremont and Ashby), and take your third left at Stonewall Road. Go up Stonewall until you see the fence and sign, and well-maintained dirt path indicating the start of the fire trail. The grade gradually increases with switchbacks through a eucalyptus grove to a hilltop overlooking the Bay and UC Berkeley. The last 1/4 mile is almost straight up — guaranteed to get your heart rate up. On a clear day the view from the top is breathtaking. For more information on walking and hiking paths in Berkeley, visit the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association website.

Recruit a friend to walk with you

Get a journal and write down what you eat and how much you walk or exercise.

Know what is in the foods you are eating. For example, a bran cranberry muffin at Peet’s is 550 calories and contains 28 grams of fat, while a brownie bite is only 80 calories with 5 grams of fat.  A medium, non-fat latte is 146 calories, whereas a medium reduced fat chai freddo is 331 calories. If you go to Starbucks, a 16 oz. non-fat latte is 130 calories, whereas a whole milk eggnog latte is 480 calories. At Starbucks it’s really difficult to find a pastry under 300 calories (even a plain bagel) and a slice of banana nut loaf will set you back 490 calories and it has 19 grams of fat. As far as pastries go, the petite vanilla bean scone is only 140 calories and has 5 grams of fat. Probably the healthiest food you can order at Starbucks is the hearty 100% whole grain oatmeal – if you get it plain, without any toppings it is only 140 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein.

Join the Berkeley Y, 24 Hour Fitness or any other local Berkeley gym. (Others include: Berkeley Ironworks Climbing & Fitness, Positive Motion, The Works Exercise & Dance Studio, Hipline). Most of these gyms offer classes in yoga, Pilates, kick-boxing, or spinning. There are also many boot camps that have started in and around Berkeley. Any of these options are sure to get you off to a good start for the new year.

Take a yoga class. There is no shortage of yoga studios in Berkeley. With the risk of omitting some studios, here is a very short list of studios you could check out: The Yoga Room, Funky Door Yoga, The Berkeley Yoga Center, Adeline Yoga Studio, 4th Street Yoga, Yoga Mandala, 7th Heaven Yoga Center, and Yoga to the People.

Park as far away from your destination as possible.  Better yet, do your errands on foot.

Always try to take the stairs (if you can find them) instead of the elevator.


Drink lots of water.

Don’t set too many New Year’s resolutions – but do set S.M.A.R.T Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-dependent).

Susan Helmrich runs Wellness Coaching in Berkeley.

Freelance writers with story pitches can email editors@berkeleyside.com.