Tone Up. Fix Up. Gear Up.

Easy ways to make 2010 your best year yet.



Well, 2010 has finally arrived, whether you are ready for it or not. The bad news? You've actually got to find that daunting list of resolutions you've been working on for the past few months. The good news? If those resolutions include weight-loss goals, updating your home, or getting the best value from car purchases or repairs, we've got the hottest tips on how to tackle them.

Think about it: Your (and your family's) health, your home, and your car are three of life's most important priorities, but we tend to ignore them, or lose them in the minutiae of everyday life.

Okay, we know what you're thinking. Oh please, not another list of resolutions about keeping resolutions. Well, here are ten pretty darn good reasons to read ours.

1. Get Moving

Yes, this is going to be the year you get — and stay — in shape. The newest trend in fitness is a rigorous, get-your-butt-in-gear workout based on the no-nonsense boot camp model. While you probably won't have to endure a drill sergeant screaming in your face, and it's unlikely you'll be called a "maggot" or a "crybaby," you can bet that the training atmosphere encourages hard work and discourages quitters. Plus, you've got the support of all the other trainees to keep you going (or to share in a post-workout cryfest). Check out the Memphis Adventure Boot Camp for women of all ages and abilities, or the USMC Fitness Boot Camp with Sergeant Tony Ludlow for everyone at every fitness level.

Another option? A fitness craze you've almost certainly heard of, Zumba, is sweeping the nation with its irresistible combination of Latin music and a full-on cardio workout. Even better, this twist on the old aerobics class features a variety of tempos and dance moves for all experience levels, making it an attractive workout at any age. Spice up your exercise routine with Zumba Fitness for a high-impact workout, Aqua Zumba for a fresh take on water aerobics, or Zumba Gold for active seniors. Ask about Zumba at your church, gym, local YMCA, or community center.

For a workout while you walk, try these on for size: Sketchers calls it the Shape Up. Reebok the Easy Tone. MBT the Anti-shoe. Fitness sneakers are the hottest trend in workout gear. These fitness shoes rely on the same basic technology to work their toning magic. The secret is instability: With soles that set the foot slightly off balance, the shoes force the calves, hamstrings, and glutes to kick into high gear. Walking and even standing requires more work from these muscles.

Reebok advertises a 28 percent better workout for your glutes and 11 percent for your calves and hamstrings, while Sketchers promotes weight loss and MBT promises better posture. Don't be afraid that you'll keel over on your first step; the shoes are comfortable and the instability is just enough to make your muscles adjust, but not enough to feel like Moon Shoes. So go on and slip into a new workout routine — the gym is in the shoes.

Of course, a pivotal part of getting fit is watching what you eat. There are some old rules of thumb to keep in mind: "Drink a full glass of water before your meal," "Cut restaurant portions in half and take one half home," "If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not hungry." As for the official skinny on getting skinny, we looked to the Centers for Disease Control. According to the CDC, people who lose weight more gradually are more likely to keep it off in the long run — which means scrap the yo-yo dieting and latch onto exercise and portion control.

"To lose weight, you must use up more calories than you take in. Since one pound equals 3,500 calories, you need to reduce your caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day to lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week," says the CDC. Not sure how many calories you burn every day? Below is a handy guide.

— Hannah Sayle

2. Makeover Magic

Need a space to call your own? Want a backyard retreat, not just a yard? A local contractor offers some thoughts on what's hot, what's out, and how to go about improving your home for the new year.

For starters, says Shawn Wood, of Wood's Home and Garden, have a clear idea of what you want to change — and why. "What part of the house gives you comfort? What is your best 'mental place' and how would you make it better? Or maybe you want to entertain more," says Wood, "or need an organized area for the kids. Or a remodeled family room. Determine what you want and how best you can achieve it."

Wood recently remodeled a kitchen in the midtown home of John and Cathy Evans — who both love to cook — by taking a typical galley-style space of 7 by 12 feet and expanding it to a 16-by-22-foot kitchen that includes an enclosed laundry area (which had formerly been in the basement). The only fixtures the couple wanted to keep were the refrigerator, washer, and dryer. So Wood redesigned the area to fit around the appliances. Travertine floors, granite countertops, and cherry-finish-cabinets complete the kitchen's spacious new look.

"Cathy and John also wanted a 'down time' area, where they could relax and look out at nature," says Wood. So he extended the expansion outward to include a keeping room, and, beyond that, a covered cedar porch. The kitchen has a cedar beam that complements the porch and ties the space together. The porch's spacious door affords a view of the backyard, which features a fountain area. "Cathy had found the fountain she wanted last year," says Wood, "and we built a brick wall around it with stone caps."

When it comes to kitchen and bathroom materials, customers can't get enough of natural products like granite. Says Wood, "It brings the good earth inside." He's also seeing the use of more stone, which has decreased in price because of European imports. Clients also like new cabinets, which offer deeper capacity, built-in racks, and drawers. "You get lots more storage space," says Wood, "without having to increase the number of cabinets." He's also adding more storage garages so people can keep things they're not ready to toss but don't want cluttering their kitchen, as well as off-kitchen pantries for canned goods.

Bathrooms too get an overhaul. In older ones, says Wood, the low height of vanity countertops can be a challenge. But he converts them by increasing their height and adding storage space beneath, making the room more functional and modern. To make a small bathroom seem larger, Wood suggests frameless shower doors. "They open up the floor plan, are much easier to clean, and have become very popular," he says. "I can't tell you the last time I installed a framed shower."

Outside the home, Wood sees outdoor fireplaces going strong, along with retaining walls with interlocking blocks, and water features that don't require a pond.

"The pump is submerged," he explains. "The layer of rock or stone has a waterfall feature, and the water is absorbed into the stone and recirculates, making it self-contained." And if you're the kind who wants to stay outside all year, you can do that — almost — with Lexan by Dupont. "It's similar to plastic, very clear and durable," says Wood, who recently constructed an arbor "for every season" with Lexan.

Before you forge ahead with any remodeling project, educate yourself about the cost of materials. "People will go with us to showrooms, love the nice things they see, but can't afford the higher-priced options. They really need to look around first before setting a budget and meeting with a remodeler." And some components can be substituted for a less expensive version. "For instance, instead of a cast-bronze faucet that costs $600, a faux finish looks very similar but costs a lot less. You have to know if you're willing to sacrifice the real thing for a substitute. So look around first before setting a budget," says Wood. "That way you can be realistic."

Above all, don't be "henpecked" to a blueprint. "[The Evans] house I did without a drawing," says Wood. "Be open to ideas, and get creative. But know what you want. That's most important."

— Marilyn Sadler

3. Wheeling & Dealing

Keeping your car up to par

For most of us, an automobile is the second most expensive investment we make. So it makes good sense to take proper care of our vehicles. But how do you really know what work needs to be done? And how much should you be spending for it? Should you risk taking your car to an independent shop and save a few bucks or head back to the dealer when something goes wrong? Buy or lease? New or pre-owned? And what is "certified pre-owned" anyway?

There are a lot of choices out there — that's a good thing. But it also leaves a lot of room for error.

"When in doubt, check the manual" should be the car owner's mantra. Even someone with zero mechanical ability can maintain a car properly by following the instructions. Aside from how to read the manual, what's the most important thing for a car owner to know? "That's simple," says Sam Rudd, owner of Tracy's Auto Repair in Midtown. "A good mechanic."

Rudd laughs as he answers, but he's serious. "You have to be able to trust someone who knows what they're doing, and is going to take care of you and your car and not lead you astray or talk you into costly repairs. You sell someone something they don't need and you might make a profit once, but you'll never see that customer again. You don't build a clientele by taking advantage. Word-of-mouth is very important in this business."

Rudd also advises drivers to heed the dashboard warning lights, or else be prepared to pay. "I've got a car in here right now that needs a new $6,000 engine because the 'check oil' light came on and that person drove for two days before bringing it in. That could have been easily avoided." When it comes to the dash, treat it like you would a traffic light, says Rudd: If it's yellow, slow down and be cautious. If it's red, stop.

Aren't there certain jobs that require a trip back to the dealership? And isn't it always more expensive? Not true, says Rudd. "Most folks assume that the dealer is going to cost you more, but it's not always the case. Get an estimate. Check around. See if the price sounds right," he cautions. "A great resource for non-car-savvy types are forums and message boards on the Web. They can be a gold mine of information for both mechanics and car owners."

On to getting the most mileage from your money: Should you lease or buy? "Either way will get you into a car," says Michael Rout, general sales manager for Roadshow BMW in Cordova. "American buying habits show that people tend to want to be in a new car every three years or so, and that type of person is going to love the lease option, though it's not for everyone," says Rudd. "If you put a lot of miles on a car in a year, say, more than the average of 15,000, then you're going to be better off purchasing."

Leases, he explains, will get drivers into a lot more car for the money, because leased cars are under warranty for the duration of the lease. Got a problem? Take it back to the dealer, and you're not out a dime. "Some people feel better knowing that they're protected as long as they're in that car. But if you're a heavy driver, leasing just might end up costing more, as most leased cars come with mileage limits. Go over the limit, and you could get socked with some hefty fees and fines. "We still sell more than we lease. It's about 60/40 these days."

Like Rudd, Rout stresses that maintenance is key to owning any car. "I've seen cars come in with up to 300,000 miles on them," says Rout. "But to keep a car, any car, running that long you've got to be vigilant."

Now the next big question: Should you buy a new car or a used one (dealerships prefer the term "pre-owned"). Again, it depends on individual taste. Some car owners refuse to drive anything anyone else has owned, while others refuse to take on the depreciation (the loss in value, usually around 6-7 percent immediately) of a car the minute it's driven off the lot. And like Rudd, Rout echoes the importance of trusting the person you're working with. And if the key to real estate is "location, location, location," the equivalent in the car business is "warranty, warranty, warranty."

"We're seeing growth in our certified pre-owned sales," says Rout, who explains that dealerships touting cars as "certified" must back those cars up with extended warranties. "In order to call a car 'certified' the dealer must put it through a series of rigorous tests, and if something's wrong, it has to be fixed before it can be sold," explains Rout. But he adds, drivers can leave the lot with confidence, knowing that they've made a solid purchase. "A certified car is going to cost a little more, but it's worth it," says Rout. "The warranty, the roadside assistance . . . most of the certifieds come with the amenities that new cars come with, but without the full price tag. You know you've gotten a solid car, and everything is as it should be."

— Mary Helen Randall

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