For many, the new year means new resolutions, and Fort Jackson is helping the community achieve some common goals: being healthy and losing weight.

Watch Your Steps and the Biggest Loser challenge are two installation initiatives designed to help the Fort Jackson community reach their resolutions.

"(Trying to lose weight) is really part of a decision process to adopt a mindset that you want to live healthier," said Col. Patrick Contino, of Midland, Michigan, the deputy commander for Clinical Services at Moncrief Army Health Clinic.

That's important, since two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, he said, calling it an "epidemic."

Contino, a medical professional who has taken an interest in nutrition since medical school, opts for what he calls a "holistic" lifestyle.

The Fort Jackson New Year's wellness programs promote the holistic way of life.

The Biggest Loser and Watch Your Steps are competitions that put participants' health back in their own hands, said Pam Long, Fort Jackson fitness and wellness specialist.

"They're both growing," she added.

Sixty six people had signed up for the Biggest Loser by the end of December, and 37 had committed to taking the Watch Your Steps challenge.

"(Participants of both) are going to feel empowered, like they're taking control of their health," Long said. "It's in the mind first."

Salad-eating, exercising and properly hydrating come later, she added.

The ultimate goal of getting healthier in the New Year should be to have more energy, be happier and live longer, Contino said. "It's part of a bigger plan to live healthy;" losing weight just isn't enough.

Goals should be attainable and change-seekers should find support from their Families and their workplaces.

The team mentality and focus on rounded wellbeing are key to the Biggest Loser competition and the Watch Your Steps contest.

Biggest Loser competitors can focus on fitness, lifestyle change, or weight loss. Body Mass Index and body fat measurements are tracked for progress. Group exercise is an important part of the program.

"Probiotics without prebiotics is kind of like planting a seed without watering it," Contino said. They need to be taken in combination since probiotics feed on prebiotics.

Fiber also keeps the gut healthy.

Some evidence suggests that green tea extract may promote weight loss, too, Contino said.

Some individuals should consider supplementing digestive enzymes.

For further consultation, seeing a primary caregiver is one option.

Otherwise, a Fort Jackson nutritionist can be reached by calling 751-2257 or 751-4408.

The Army Wellness Center provides testing on BMI fitness status, metabolic testing, nutrition classes and stress management training. Representatives of the center can be reached at 751-6749.

"If you want better health, it's going to be more difficult," Contino said, but it's worth it, he added.

Watch Your Steps is a walk and wellness initiative for teams of employees and active duty service members at Fort Jackson.

Walking, reading, hydrating, exercising and yoga are categories.

Getting healthier should be more than a New Year's resolution, often derailed by temptations, Contino said.

Everyone knows "the gym clears out by the 15th of February," he added.

Focusing on the "performance triad" -- sleep, exercise and nutrition -- can prevent a derail, he said.
Seven to eight hours of sleep per night, preferably uninterrupted, tends to be best for adults, though the amount can vary from person to person.

Roughly 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, or 150 minutes total, is optimal, Contino said. The intensity required for maximum growth is different for each individual.

Standing is better than sitting at work, he added. Even small changes -- like walking to a coworker's office rather than sending an email -- can make a difference.

Nutrition is more diverse, but Contino has some general advice.

Eat a balanced diet and avoid overeating, especially after 6 p.m. Most of the calories eaten late in the day will be stored, he said.

There are a few things everyone should avoid: preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and even juice.

Preservatives make it difficult to absorb vitamins and minerals. After eating, the body will still crave more since it didn't take in all of the nutrition.

"It's looking for the lost vitamin or mineral it doesn't have," Contino said.

High fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners should also be avoided.

"Some of these molecules (of high fructose corn syrup) aren't even recognized by the brain," Contino said.

High fructose corn syrup components interfere with the hormone leptin, which tells the body when it's full.

"You end up eating for one-and-a-half or two people," Contino explained.

Artificial sweeteners raise insulin levels, making weight loss more challenging.

"You're playing with your hormone," Contino said, and a growth hormone at that. "It's an unhealthy choice."

Eating fruits is better than drinking juice, Contino said, commenting that "the juice ain't worth the squeeze."

A combination of prebiotics and probiotics is beneficial to add to the diet "to promote good digestion," Contino said.

More bacteria per capsule is better. A goal is 10 million organisms per capsule, with at least 10 strains.