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04/03/12 3:10 PM ET

It's never too late to line up a fitness plan

BOSTON -- "It Happens Every Spring" happens to be the title of an old baseball movie. The plot centers on a college professor who, while working in his lab, witnesses a baseball come crashing through the window, smashing a number of beakers and vials. The resulting mix coats the ball, and the professor discovers that the ball now repels wood. Of course, he then runs off, becomes a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and leads them to the World Series. Yeah, he was cheating, but as a kid, I was enthralled by the notion that this secret formula could give the professor an edge.

What happens every spring for me is that I come out of a winter of relative hibernation and discover that my hand was not very effective at repelling food. And since an invitation to attend camp with the Red Sox was not forthcoming, I've fallen behind in my quest to be in better shape by spring. If only I had a secret weapon to melt away the pounds and firm up the flab.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," said Sandra Allonen, a registered dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "I see the ads about fat-burning pills and I read stories all the time about the next 'miracle diet.' There's a lot of misinformation out there."

It turns out that there are indeed formulas to follow for better fitness. They're just not secret.

"Diet and exercise are key," said Allonen. "I use the analogy of a car. If you tune up your car regularly and put good fuel in, your car will run better and last longer. If you tune up your body regularly with exercise and eat better foods, you are going to run better, too."

Speaking of running, it is one of the more popular activities for folks starting or re-starting a fitness program. Keep in mind that you don't have to go out and run five miles. You don't even have to run. Starting slow is smart, said Alison Katz, a physical therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

"You really want to build up your activity sensibly," said Katz. "Trying to do too much, too fast can actually set you back."

Think about Major League pitchers. Even though most of them have been working out in the offseason, they don't go out and throw nine innings on their first day of Spring Training. They follow a supervised plan to work their arm -- along with the rest of their body -- into shape.

Katz says that training errors such as improper shoes or poorly planned workouts frequently lead to injury.

"We suggest increasing your distance no more than 10 percent a week," said Katz. "It's also a good idea to have a well-rounded fitness plan. Having weight training along with the cardio activities is essential."

Both Katz and Allonen agree that setting small, achievable goals is one of the best ways to stay on track.

"Start by drinking more water instead of a soda," suggests Allonen. "If the thought of giving up snack foods sounds impossible, try a snack-pack size to help you control the portion or bring one piece of fruit to work with you each day."

"You don't have to join a gym," added Katz. "There are a number of ways you can incorporate more healthy activity into your day, and it won't cost you a thing. You can get off the bus a stop or two early and walk. Maybe you walk up one or two flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. That's a great start."

Ideally, you want it to be enjoyable. So if you don't like running, try biking. If you hate broccoli, peel a carrot. The goal is to have good eating habits and exercise become a regular part of your routine -- season after season.

"I've found that having somebody to run or walk with helps me to stick with it. We can encourage each other," said Katz.

Enlisting teammates in this fitness effort adds a layer of accountability that can also help when those tough days come along, as they undoubtedly will.

"When you're not the only one saying 'No thank you' to the piece of cake at the office birthday party, you don't feel so deprived," said Allonen. "And I always remind my patients not to beat themselves up if they do surrender to temptation once in a while. Let's try to do better next time."

There is no better time than the present to walk confidently to the plate, fill it wisely, and take the occasional run home. It's a new season. What do you say we get started?

Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.