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Dr. Samara Kester was at the Taste of Valparaiso when, unbeknownst to her, a friend won three free personal training sessions for her at an auction.

Kester put them aside for a few months but eventually decided to give it a try. She's glad she did.

Two years later, the 64-year-old is stronger, more energized and less stressed. She has lost more than 75 pounds and 69 inches. She hopes her story can serve as inspiration for others that it's never too late to get into shape.

"It's really important for people to know you can start at any time," she said. "I always thought it wasn't going to work because I was too old.

"I'm here to tell you it can be done. You just have to ask yourself, 'Do you really want to? How hungry are you for this? How truly motivated are you?'"

Kester, an emergency room physician who lives in Valparaiso, knew what she needed to do to be in better health. It was just a matter of putting things into action.

Take nutrition. Her personal trainer, Zach Lloyd, said she ate what he called a "doctor's diet."

"Doctors don't eat real healthfully because of the pressure we're under," she said. "We work 12-hour shifts. We don't get breaks. We grab as we go. That starts in medical school and residency. If you're not diligent, it catches up to you. Not to mention it's a high-stress lifestyle."

Lloyd, who works at Valpo TruFit, encouraged her to eat four meals a day of lean protein and vegetables. She cut sugar and processed food out of her diet. If she has carbohydrates, she goes with complex ones, like quinoa or oats.

She works out with Lloyd two to four days a week, and supplements that with yoga, hiking and biking.

They start out their sessions with a breathing warm-up, reminding her to breathe deeply from the diaphragm throughout the routine. She then does strength-training exercises, like squats, deadlifts, pushups and rows. She and Lloyd end with core exercises and more breathing. They also work on posture.

"We're constantly setting goals around strength ... rather than just getting on a scale, which is a complete fool's errand," Lloyd said. Weight helps determine progress over a long period of time, he said, but on a regular basis body fat and muscle capacity are more telling measures.

Kester has noticed improvements in her functional mobility, from getting up out of chairs to climbing stairs. She's to the point where if she doesn't exercise she gets grumpy.

"My underlying motivation is how amazing I feel," she said. "I did start this to lose weight, but I also wanted to get strong and feel better. I feel incredible."

She has tried different exercise routines and trainers in the past. She credits her success this time around to finding a coach she has chemistry with.

"Reach out to someone who can help you," she suggested. "Zach's absolutely priceless. He's a great resource: to help encourage, to help educate, to help motivate, to help demonstrate. Sometimes people just need a little education or a little encouragement, and they can take off."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.