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Fit at (almost) 50

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When Chris Kelly saw her dad, Bill Kelly, lying in a hospital bed connected to what seemed like miles of tubing and wires right after he underwent triple heart bypass surgery the summer of 2011, she knew she needed to do something so she didn’t end up there herself. Two of her dad’s siblings had died of heart problems in their 50s.

She will be turning 50 on Nov. 1.

Kelly was already developing health problems. At 230 pounds, she was overweight and frequently ate out. If she exerted herself she would feel a tightening in her chest. She had sleep apnea and her right knee was always hurting. Her cholesterol was high at 284.

“I was facing my 50s and looking in the future and not wanting to face that,” Kelly said.

So Kelly decided this was it. It was time for a lifestyle change.

Her doctor recommended she exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week and follow the DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, a program recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s considered a well-balanced approach to eating for everyone.

Kelly began following the diet plan and tracking what she ate in January, keeping a food diary online at, a free weight loss website. She lost 10 pounds that month.

Encouraged, she decided to start exercising in mid-February. She started walking up and down the 10 sets of stairs after school at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, where she works as a media specialist.

“I did 10 minutes and I thought I’d die,” Kelly recalled, laughing. She realized almost immediately that it wasn’t going to work for her. “I was embarrassed I was red. To have people see you exercise, it was embarrassing.”

So Kelly took to the street and decided to start walking around her northeast Brainerd neighborhood for 30 minutes at a stretch, listening to music on her iPod. Problem was, walking didn’t get her heart rate up enough. So she started running.

“I sort of accidentally started running,” Kelly said. “I’d run a half-block and that’s it.”

Gradually the distance she’d be able to run grew. By mid-April she could run during the entire 30 minutes without stopping.

Within three months her cholesterol dropped from 284 to 127.

For someone who always “hated” exercise, Kelly did the unthinkable: She decided to run a 5K. She ran the “Race for Grace” 5K benefit walk/run in May, after losing about 60 pounds. She was hoping she would at least finish and run the whole way. She did. She has since run two more 5K runs, trying to beat her time from her previous runs.

She set mini and big goals throughout her wellness journey. When she left the “obese” range and hit the “overweight” range on the BMI chart, she bought herself an iPod Nano. When she hit the “normal” BMI range, she bought herself a pair of Levi jeans she wanted.

When she reached 199 pounds she bought a bike. She realized that running every day was starting to be tough on her body, so she decided to do cross-training, running one day, then biking or kayaking the next. She often bikes 8-10 miles at a time but recently went biking on the Lake Wobegon Trail near St. Cloud with friends and biked 44 miles. Next summer her goal is to bike from Brainerd to Bemidji, where her parents live, on the Paul Bunyan Trail. She works out with free weights every other day, using weight lifting apps on her iPad for guidance.

“I only do 30 minutes of exercise a day,” said Kelly. “I don’t spend a ton of time on it. This is actually doable, you just have to get over that it’s going to take over your life.”

Kelly said the key to her success is tracking her food. It’s something she acknowledges she’ll have to do the rest of her life if she wants to remain healthy.

“I’m really trying to change my way of thinking about food,” Kelly explained. “Food is not a reward. It’s not about denying myself or punishing myself. I’m doing it for myself.”

Kelly reached her goal of losing 80 pounds in early September. Her reward? A new pair of Silver jeans from Maurice’s. Her weight is the lowest it has ever been.

“I’m amazed my body’s able to do this,” Kelly said, of exercising. “I actually feel like an athlete now. It’s cool to know that anybody can do this.”

Kelly usually gets up early to run or bike for 30 minutes. She figures her exercise is then done right away and she can get on with her day. She plans to try cross-country skiing and do some snowshoeing this winter for some variety.

This has been a complete lifestyle transformation for her.

“I remember waking up two months after I started and feeling better,” she said. “I felt light and energetic. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel so good.’”

Kelly said her biggest challenge will be keeping the weight off. Her next big goal is to join a national weight maintenance study after she’s kept the weight off for one year.

Kelly is looking forward to turning 50.

“I actually am. I am in a good place,” she said with a smile. “I can do more now than in my 40s.”

■ JODIE TWEED, a former Brainerd Dispatch reporter, is a freelance writer living in Pequot Lakes. She and her husband, Nels Norquist, have three daughters, Erika, Madeline and Beatrice.