There's nothing more discouraging than believing you have to give up pleasure to get fitter. That approach doesn't work anyway. Instead of pursuing grim, boring self-denial, adopt more enjoyable strategies, like these from The Canyon Ranch Guide to Living Younger Longer (Simon & Schuster Source, 2001):

* Perform the real activity rather than the gym imitation. Whenever possible, ride your bike outdoors or climb a steep trail instead of using a stationary bike or stair climber. It's the best way to become more agile, graceful and sure-footed -- and less injury-prone.

* Remember how to play. Race the dog or jump rope and you might rediscover the child in you while making physical activity fun again.

* Be realistic and patient. Your ideal weight is your weight after six months to one year of eating as well and exercising as much as you reasonably can. It doesn't mean being model-thin. If you change your habits gradually, your body, given time, will also change. The direction in which you move is more important than the size of the step. But whatever you do, keep at it.

Written by the experts at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires (Mass.) and in Tucson, Ariz., this book also offers easy at-home stretches and strengthening exercises, simple, healthy recipes, relationship-building advice and stress-management tips. It's the toolbox you need to take that first (or second) step in the right direction toward a healthier life.

-- Valerie Latona

Your health on the web
* labtestsonline.org, launched by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry and other professional organizations, explains common lab tests, such as STD screenings, Pap smears, cholesterol tests and urinalysis.

* The Health Information Check Up program (kp.org/hicheckup), created by Kaiser Permanente, offers both consumer and expert input about medical and health Web sites as well as tools to help you learn how to judge a site's reliability.

Give the gift of life
Your holiday greetings can benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. For each $5 donation you make, the foundation will send a "Gift of Life" card to someone on your list (800-889-3665).

-- Paige A. Mycoskie

When the wind blows The Chinook, a warm, dry wind that sweeps through the Rockies from fall to spring, can trigger migraines, Canadian researchers reported in the journal Neurology. (In Southern California, such "devil" winds are called Santa Anas.)

Ease into exercise Some people get migraine headaches after working out. If you do, warming up slowly instead of starting out at full speed may prevent them. Portuguese scientists discovered that sudden spurts of heavy exercise at the start of a workout release high levels of nitric oxide into migraine-prone people's bloodstreams, possibly dilating blood vessels in the head and causing pain. After 30 seconds of intense bicycling that wasn't preceded by a warm-up, more than half of the 21 migraine-prone women developed a severe headache within five or six hours, compared to none of the 12 women who weren't migraine-prone.

A new food trigger? Add another food to the list of possible migraine culprits, such as red wine, some kinds of cheese and chocolate. British researchers reporting in Neurology found that seven of nine migraine sufferers who ate a diet that was free of gluten -- a protein found in wheat and other grains, including barley and rye -- stopped having headaches, and the other two experienced some relief. Corn, potatoes, soybeans and rice don't contain gluten, but it can be hidden in emulsifiers, fillers, thickeners and stabilizers.

Delivering relief Applying lidocaine cream to your forehead may relieve migraine pain by desensitizing the nerves that trigger it. In a study conducted at Chicago's Diamond Headache Clinic in conjunction with Epicept Corp., which is developing a patch to deliver the topical anesthetic, migraine patients who used a 4-percent lidocaine cream (this strength is available by prescription only) experienced faster pain relief -- sometimes within two hours -- than those who used a placebo.

-- Karen Asp, Mary Brophy Marcus

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