IF THERE'S ANYTHING we abhor more than belly fat, it's the sense that we are getting older. From those first strands of gray, we fight tooth and nail to deny the inevitable. Zeroing in on our fears and insecurities, clever advertisers relentlessly pitch us anti-aging products and procedures.

Honestly, though, anti-aging is an oxymoron, because no creams, magic potions, or even the best cosmetic surgery can reverse the aging process.

We can take responsibility for how we age. We can decide to respect our bodies by giving them the proper daily care, the best nutrition, and, of course, daily exercise.

Sure, we may be a little stiffer in the morning, a little softer and rounder in the midsection. Maybe we even need magnifying spectacles to read this article. But, instead of fighting it, we should embrace the changes and adapt to the new realities aging brings.

Adapting to his new reality is exactly what 44-year-old Phil Clark did. The Yale graduate and owner of the Training Station gym on Spring Garden Street told me: "I stopped running competitively four years ago, but I've continued to exercise in a way that mirrors my training since I was 14 years old.

"One of the fundamental realities of aging is needing more time to recover. With aging, we should only do what we can recover from."

Research has shown that exercise is the closest thing we humans have to a fountain of youth. In study after study, good nutrition and exercise are shown to be our best natural prescriptions for better health and longevity.

So, do yourself a favor, and ditch the cultural myths and attitudes that too many Americans hold about aging. Realize that there are aspects of aging you do have some control over - but maybe not the ones you think.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Honor your body

Prevention is the most practical and easiest route to good health and fitness. Stop taking your body for granted, and, instead, show it gratitude for getting you through life's journey. Honor yourself just the way you are - whatever your age, shape, or size - with loving thoughts, time outdoors in the sunshine, and daily exercise.

Challenge yourself

It's important to challenge yourself physically, especially as you get older. Many people put artificial limits on what they think they can do. Consequently, they never try and never see results.

No matter your age, give yourself permission to try something new. Go on, lace up and lift some weights, try a yoga class, or finally do that 5K run. You'll likely be pleasantly surprised about what you can do once you put your mind to it.

Use common sense

Say yes to new challenges, but be aware of your personal limits. If you have been diagnosed with a condition like osteoporosis, for example, you will likely have to adapt your running, yoga, or weightlifting routines.

Failure to adapt your exercise routines as you age could have some unintended consequences. For example, a woman in her 80s was at the gym, and somebody threw a medicine ball at her really hard. She caught the ball, but she also broke a vertebra.

Talk with your doctor about your exercise plans, and remember to listen to your body.

Clark offers this advice for the mature fitness novice:

* Congratulations on stepping up, new exerciser.

* Go easy at first, and pace yourself.

* Remember, ego can be the devil on your shoulder, so don't listen to it.

Aging is not an illness. It is a natural process we all go through. How we handle it is largely up to us. Exercise and good nutrition are, by far, the best ways to tackle aging gracefully.

Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears on the first and third Wednesdays monthly.