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Some people say that you’re over the hill when you hit 40 — that it’s all downhill from there. Not Mary Maus Kosir: Out of shape and overweight, she used the milestone as motivation and an opportunity for change.

When she celebrated her 40th birthday in 2007, Kosir carried 180 pounds on her 5-foot-5-inch frame. She had little energy, her self-confidence was dwindling, and after years of unhealthy eating and half-hearted exercise, the assistant college dean from St. Paul, Minn., feared she would never be the mother, wife and daughter she wanted to be.

“I saw my children getting older and my parents aging, and I thought, ‘I really want to be a healthy mom and a healthy role model,’” says Kosir, now 42. “I found myself looking for an easy fix. But then I realized that to have more energy and feel better about myself, I just needed to get in shape.”

Spotting a sign for the T.E.A.M. (Training, Education, Accountability, Motivation) Weight Loss program at the Life Time Fitness club near her home, Kosir was intrigued. The 12-week small-group program encouraged ­participants to lose weight at a safe, sustainable pace through ­heart-rate training, strength training and healthy ­eating. Soon after, she signed up for the January 2008 session. By committing — with her word and her money — to exercise with the class at least three days a week, Kosir hoped she would find the structure, accountability and inspiration she needed to get on the right track.

A New Way to Workout

Kosir had been active as a child and teenager, playing sports and cheerleading. But motherhood (daughter Margaret is 11, son Max is 8) and career obligations gradually pushed health and fitness toward the bottom of her to-do list. To contend with her stress, Kosir ate more and tried to convince herself that it was her busy schedule, not her unhealthy lifestyle, that was sapping her energy. When she did manage to hit the elliptical machine at the gym, she found herself going through the motions instead of really pushing herself.

Kosir wasn’t crazy about getting up for the 6 a.m. T.E.A.M. workouts, especially on those January mornings when the mercury dipped below zero. And she never ­looked forward to climbing on the treadmill — she sometimes doubted her legs would hold up. But she rose to the occasion. Three times a week, personal trainer Andrea Jones led Kosir and her seven workout buddies
through 60-minute treadmill sessions, teaching them to use intervals, inclines and heart-rate training to burn fat instead of sugar. Jones gradually increased the intensity, adding weights and resistance bands to build strength. Once a week, the group met with a nutritionist to discuss meal-planning and healthy-eating strategies.

At the end of each session, Kosir dripped with sweat — and felt great. She quickly lost 6 pounds, which fueled her desire to keep at it. For the first time in years, she found herself looking forward to the next workout.

The effects spilled into her daily life, too. “I felt so much better. I became a better mom and wife, I was better in the workplace, and I was just happier,” she says. “The routine seemed to be working.”

The team dynamic was key. She quickly bonded with several classmates, and she drew strength from their encouragement. Kosir felt accountable to her team and knew that if she skipped a class she’d hear about it.

By the end of March, she’d lost 18 pounds (down to 162) and could comfortably run three miles on the treadmill. Excited about her success and increasingly confident about her abilities, Kosir signed up for a second T.E.A.M. session and began meeting her exercise pals for extra workouts at least twice a week. Over the next three months, she shed an additional 12 pounds, built muscle tone and looked for new challenges.

In May, Kosir — accompanied by her T.E.A.M. pals — completed her first 5K run. Later that summer, she trained for and finished an 8K and completed her first running and ­biking duathlon.

Sticking With It

Despite establishing a regular workout regimen right off the bat, Kosir didn’t embrace the nutrition recommendations quite as quickly. As a working mom, she often relied on ­convenience foods that were chock-full of processed ­ingredients like refined ­carbohydrates and sugars. And she had a hard time incorporating the healthy-eating strategies she was ­learning in class into her everyday lifestyle — it was too many changes all at once. (For tips on how to make tasty, nutritious meals in a hurry, see “Good Food, Fast,” in this issue.)

But during her second T.E.A.M. session, the nutrition component clicked. Kosir began using to track her diet and its ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat; ­seeing the hard data helped her start making real changes. She ditched the processed snack foods and high-sugar ­cereals, for instance, and opted for fruit smoothies and whole grains. She also added more lean protein to her diet, as well as Greek yogurt, fresh fruits and vegetables like edamame, and healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and avocados.

Fueled by a nutritious diet, Kosir was ready to really ramp up her fitness routine. In September 2008, she signed up for another T.E.A.M. Fitness program to learn in-depth strength-training techniques and develop a more toned body. “She’s got the fire for fitness now,” says Jones, who’s no longer with Life Time Fitness but has continued working with Kosir. “It’s awesome to see.”

Truly Transformed

Two years after starting her fitness and weight-loss journey, Kosir has lost 38 pounds and dropped her body fat from 34 to 21 percent. More important, though, she has more energy, has regained her self-confidence and is excited about sharing her fitness enthusiasm with her family (they often take 20-mile bike rides together and break into sit-ups during TV commercial breaks).

Kosir continues to work out six days a week with the women she met in her original T.E.A.M. class, and to set new goals and challenge herself physically. In 2009, to date, she’s completed her first 10K, her first 10-mile race and her first half-marathon. “I’m a totally different person now,” she says. “I realize that it can be so gratifying to push yourself in new ways. I’m amazed that at 42, I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Success Summary

Meet: Mary Maus Kosir, 42, an assistant college dean and married mom of two from St. Paul, Minn.

Big Accomplishments: Losing 38 pounds by establishing a consistent workout regimen and rethinking her eating habits; being in the best shape of her life at 40-plus.

Big Inspirations: Turning 40; finding encouragement, education and support from group weight-loss and ­fitness classes.

What Worked: Committing to a consistent workout ­routine; tracking her eating habits online.

What Didn’t Work: Trying to make too many changes too quickly to both her exercise and eating habits.

Words of Wisdom: “Having a sense of accountability and sharing goals with other people is really helpful. If you sleep in and miss a workout, you know you’re letting people down.”

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