With the new year approaching it's time to start making those new year resolutions again. For many individuals getting in shape will be their number one priority. But where do you start and what is the best way to go about shedding those unwanted pounds?

The Milford/Orange YMCA has a number of alternatives available to help get you started on the right track to healthy living. The YMCA offers a fully equipped fitness center with treadmills, Nautalilus Next Generation, stair masters, life cycles, and a 25 yard indoor/outdoor pool. There are a variety of fitness classes available as well. And variety is a key element in any successful fitness program according to YMCA's Health & Wellness Director Amanda Berry.

"Many people come to the fitness center and think that they have to use all of the machines. But, that isn't true. You should only do the ones that you need and that you feel comfortable using," said Berry. "Variety is important. Keep yourself open to new things, especially as your fitness level increases. Exercise should be fun."

When asked what advice she would offer someone beginning a new fitness program Berry had this to offer. "Start out slow. Many people come in and ask how fast should I be walking a mile on the treadmill? What I tell them is, it doesn't matter how fast. You may not be ready to do a 15 minute mile, it may take you 30 minutes. You should do what you can do. People need to accept what level of fitness that they are at and realize that over time, gradually their level will increase. What is most important is be consistent."

The classes offered at the YMCA all teach "body awareness."

"It is important not to tune out the unpleasantness of exercise with music or a magazine. Instead tune into what your body is doing and how it is responding to the exercise. Is this exercise uncomfortable? Is it uncomfortable because I am over doing it or because I am using muscles that I haven't used in a while? These are questions that you will gain a better understanding of as you increase your level of fitness and awareness," said Berry.

"Another benefit of body awareness is that you will be more aware of what your body does throughout the course of your day. How does your body respond to sitting at a computer? Most people have a tendency to slouch. I tell people when they slouch while sitting at the computer or driving that the middle of their body has no place else to go but out," she continued.

"Being aware of how your body behaves in certain situations and during certain activities allows you to adjust the way you do things. Maybe your neck gets tense sitting at the computer. This may be because you are not sitting correctly. Maybe you need to adjust your chair, or maybe your body is telling you to get up, walk around, and give yourself a break from whatever it is you are doing," Berry added.

"People want a magic pill when it comes to fitness, but there isn't one." You have to start slowly, gradually increase your level of fitness, and be consistent," said Berry.

The programs offered at the YMCA are taught by trained staff. If anyone is looking for a starting point, the next session of fitness classes at the YMCA will be beginning on Jan. 7, 2002. Registration for these classes has already begun. The YMCA also offers water aerobics, both adult and child swim lessons, as well as a variety of youth programs including Family Storytime, middle school programs, and Kids Knight Out.

In addition to the unlimited use of the fitness room and swimming pool a membership at the YMCA also includes use of the sauna, a free orientation in the proper use of the fitness center and it's equipment, free babysitting Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and reduced rates on many programs such as aerobics, swim lessons, and summer camp.

For further information, call the Milford/Orange YMCA at 878-6501.