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One step at a time, literally, James O. Hill is on a mission to improve the health of Americans. His simple solution to the overwhelming problem of obesity is to get us to walk a little more each day and eat just a few calories less.

"I decided if there's one thing I can do, it would be to get people walking again," says Hill, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver and co-founder of Colorado on the Move and America on the Move, two projects that encourage people to get more exercise. "Walking is such a great idea, because you don't need special equipment."

If you're like most people, you're not gaining 10 to 20 pounds a year. More likely, you're putting on just a couple of pounds annually. Yet that adds up to 10- to 20-plus pounds a decade. And after 20 or 30 years of steady weight gain, your girth puts you at risk for serious health problems.

Your first goal shouldn't be a crash diet, but to stabilize your weight, says Hill, who is also co-author of "The Step Diet Book" (Workman Publishing Company, 2004). By cutting back 100 calories a day and walking a mile, or 2,000 extra steps, you're burning another 100 calories, stopping weight gain in its tracks.

To encourage people to become more active, Hill recommends strapping on a pedometer. "You can be physically fit and not have a pedometer," he says. "But we (who are watching our weight) love to see numbers. We love feedback, and we love to have a goal."

Once you've put the brakes on weight gain, Hill proposes walking more every day until you're taking a total of 10,000 steps a day. At the same time, eat 25 percent less than you used to, he says.

Yet easy as it is to follow, it may take some convincing before you're sold on Hill's proposal. If you've gained a considerable amount of weight and have health concerns, you probably want to lose the excess pounds quickly. And you'll find a wealth of quick weight-loss schemes that promise success.

However, lose-weight-quick programs usually backfire, as you know if this isn't your first diet. Instead, you're better off making small changes you can stick with.

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