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Patty Masters never gave much thought to the importance of health and fitness until July 2005, when her mother, Dee, died at age 72. Overweight and bedridden, her mom suffered from a variety of chronic ailments, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. “She was in terrible pain, she never wanted to exercise, and I think she just gave up,” Masters recalls. “I knew I didn’t want to go like that.”

But the Sugar Land, Texas, homemaker was already following a similar path. Heavy since childhood, Masters never exercised and frequently relied on diets to help her lose weight — with short-lived success. At 52, she was significantly overweight and relying on prescription drugs to control her high blood pressure and ease her joint pain. She also fought lower-back pain and plantar fasciitis.

Despite these painful conditions, it wasn’t until January 2006, when the now 54-year-old Masters learned she was prediabetic, that she realized how serious her health problems were. “It scared me,” she recalls. “I really hoped I hadn’t done anything I couldn’t reverse.”

Her doctor, Tayma Weber, MD, gave her two options: She could take yet another medication to treat her prediabetes, or she could exercise and improve her diet. “I told her that she could use pill power,” says Weber, “or she could use willpower.”

Masters chose to take her health into her own hands and began moving in the direction in which she’d become healthier, fitter and stronger than ever.

A Friendly Push

When Masters first visited Weber in 2006, she weighed in at 278 pounds — far too much for her 5-foot 8-inch frame. Weber encouraged her to join a gym and take a water aerobics class, which would help her get active without putting additional strain on her already overburdened joints.

Masters took her advice, joining the Life Time Fitness club near her home and signing up for water aerobics. Though she was intimidated and self-conscious at first, it proved to be a perfect fit. The instructors were encouraging, and she was able to work out six times a week without pain. The excess weight soon began to melt off: She lost 60 pounds in the first three months.

Support from her husband, Ron, and their two grown sons motivated Masters to keep going, as did the encouragement of Mary Beth Olvey, whom she met in class. “When I started making friends in water aerobics, it wasn’t a chore to go,” Masters says. “It was a fun, social thing to do.”

Olvey urged her to expand her routine beyond the pool. “I’d been doing a Pilates class, and I encouraged her to do it, too,” Olvey says. “It took her awhile before she joined me, but when she did it, she liked it.” Before long, Masters was doing Pilates two or three times a week, in addition to her water workouts.

Despite her new fitness regimen, Masters’s weight plateaued at 195 pounds in August. Determined to continue down the healthy track, she met with a personal trainer who gave her a fitness assessment and offered further guidance. When the results showed she had 29.6 percent body fat, the trainer suggested adding resistance training to her routine, which would build strength and rev up her metabolism. She started with resistance machines and gradually added squats, chest inclines and other free-weight exercises to her workouts.

She began incorporating core work with a medicine ball when she started training with Chris Mooney, assistant personal-training department head at the Sugar Land facility, in the fall. “I enjoyed the power I felt when doing resistance work and watching muscle definition appear,” she says.

To maintain her enthusiasm for strength training, she asked Mooney to tweak the workouts monthly. “She was extremely self-motivated,” Mooney recalls. “All she needed was a little guidance.” The new routine did the trick: She lost about 10 pounds a month and reached her goal weight of 140 pounds in early 2007.

Fueling Fitness Success

As Masters overhauled her fitness, she also radically changed her diet. An emotional eater who frequently turned to ice cream when she felt anxious, she says the prediabetes diagnosis was especially tough to handle. “I mourned how I would have to give up desserts forever,” she says. “But then I realized that I had eaten a lifetime of them already.”

She started a food journal immediately after the initial appointment with Weber and began swapping out her high-calorie, high-carbohydrate meals of bread, rice and pasta for a diet full of lean meats, beans, legumes and plenty of vegetables. She also monitored her blood-sugar levels.

In early 2007, when those levels stayed high even after losing weight, she switched to a vegan diet — lots of beans, organic fruits and vegetables, tofu, and oat bran. While the options at first seemed restrictive, Masters sought out good recipes and new foods that fit into her regimen. “I’ve found that the variety of things I eat now is much greater than it ever was before,” she says.

Though she’s reached her goal weight, Masters continues to keep the journal — as a reminder of her past eating habits and to ensure that she doesn’t slip. “I try not to take too much for granted,” she says. “I don’t want to get on a downward spiral.”

So far, her vigilance has served her well. In addition to shedding more than 130 pounds, her new, healthy way of life has allowed her to eliminate four of the six medications she once took for her chronic conditions.

The View Ahead

When Masters began working out and eating healthy, she primarily wanted to avoid insulin shots. She realized as the weight came off, however, that she was happier and more energetic than she’d ever been. She also saw how much more she could do. Once unable to lift her feet off the floor to do a jumping jack, she recently started taking kickboxing classes.

Food and fitness, once Masters’s weaknesses, have become her strengths. And while the numbers on the scale suggest that she’s achieved her goals, she’s now pushing to get even stronger and more physically fit. “Losing weight went hand-in-hand with getting healthy,” she says. “Now I would like to see how far I can go.”

Success Summary

Meet: Patty Masters, 54, a homemaker from Sugar Land, Texas

Big achievement: Losing more than 130 pounds and eliminating the need for four medications

Big inspirations: Frequent wardrobe upgrades. “Every month I was buying new clothes, and as I lost weight, the clothes I could choose from were much nicer. It was good motivation.”

What worked: Connecting exercise with social activity through fitness classes. “The wonderful friendships I have made make coming back day after day a pleasure.”

What didn’t: Dieting without exercise. “Diets worked for a while — but I always gained the weight right back.”

Words of wisdom: Forget vanity. “Some people say that they could never get into a bathing suit, but you just need to go to the gym and do it. No one will know you, and when you get there, you’ll realize that there are other people who look just like you.”

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