Being active and doing regular exercise is incredibly beneficial for your health.
Despite its many benefits, the majority of people don’t get enough physical activity in their routines.
While you might be busy with work, your family, hobbies, and other obligations, it’s essential to take the time to be active; your health is your most valuable asset, after all!
If you’re wondering how to start exercising, then you’re not alone.
Considering your unique situation, likes and dislikes, and other factors will help set you up for your success in your quest to improve your health through physical activity.
The importance of exercise
Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your health.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a healthcare professional that doesn’t recommend exercising!
Being physically active regularly can help promote a healthy body weight, improve mobility, and reduce the risk for several chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and depression.
It’s recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week as a minimum.
Despite its numerous health benefits, most people don’t get enough movement in their routines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in a 2018 report, fewer than 1 in 4 Americans get enough physical activity, which could explain the increase in obesity rates and other lifestyle-related health issues in recent decades.
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Types of exercise
Cardiovascular exercise, or aerobic exericse, is the type of exercise most people probably think of when they think of the term exercise.
Aerobic means “with oxygen” and results in an increase in your heart rate and breathing rates and lasts for a longer duration than interval training or weight lifting.
This exercise is often referred to as a cardio workout. It includes brisk walking, running, swimming, dancing, or any other type of exercise that gets your heart pumping.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
A HIIT workout routine has gotten more popular in recent years. HIIT training is a type of cardio exercise that alternates higher intensity movements with lower intensity movements for recovery.
One of the benefits of HIIT training is that you can get a short but efficient workout while building aerobic fitness. An example of HIIT training is sprinting for 20 seconds and then jogging for a minute and repeating for 15 minutes.
Otherwise referred to as weight training, strength training builds muscle strength and doesn’t involve the cardiovascular system as much as pure cardio exercises do.
Strength training can include weight lifting, doing bodyweight exercises, or using a resistance band. To build muscle, weight lifters usually lift heavier weights for a shorter duration of time.
Balance and flexibility
Activities such as stretching, yoga, and pilates are also forms of exercise.
Not only can they improve balance and flexibility, but they can also encourage lean muscle growth as well as being a type of cardio exercise when the intensity or difficulty is high enough.
How to start exercising
If you want to be more active but aren’t yet following an exercise regime, it can be a bit overwhelming to know how to start exercising.
Don’t worry, though – everyone who is an avid exerciser was once in your exact place. We all have to start somewhere, and the most challenging part is usually getting started.
Step 1: Set Realistic Goals
One of the most important things is to choose an exercise routine that is enjoyable and realistic for you at the time. If you set unrealistic fitness goals, it can be frustrating and might lead you to give up on your intentions to be more physically active.
For instance, if you’re not a fan of getting up early to exercise before going to work, you might be better off setting a goal to walk during your lunch break or head straight to the gym after work.
You might be tempted to set a vague goal such as “walking more” or “being more active.” To increase your chance of success, exercise goals should be SMART. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based.
For instance, a SMART goal could be to go for a 30-minute walk on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays after work for the next two weeks.
Step 2: Check with your healthcare provider
Before you start exercising, it’s important that you’re cleared by your healthcare provider first. Suppose you have any history of injury or physical limitation.
In that case, you should consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist to ensure your exercise routine will be beneficial and not trigger old injuries or cause new ones.
Step 3: Make a plan
Once you have your goal and are medically cleared, it’s time to make a plan to start exercising!
Having a specific and well-laid-out plan can help you boost your confidence as you set out to start exercising.
It’s also important to ease into exercising so your body can adjust. This, therefore, will reduce the likelihood of being sore or straining a muscle.
Example 1 week exercise routine
* Always check with your healthcare provider and adjust this sample routine based on current physical abilities and fitness level. *
30 minutes of brisk walking (or another low-impact cardio exercise such as jogging, bicycling, or swimming, depending on physical limitations or preferences).
30 minutes of brisk walking, ending with 10 minutes of a higher-intensity workout such as jumping jacks or light jogging.
40 minutes brisk walking or another low-impact cardio exercise.
- Warm-up by walking for 10 minutes and then complete circuits of bodyweight exercises.
- Complete the exercises in each circuit back-to-back without rest, but do allow some rest time between the circuits.
- Repeat circuits up to 3 times each depending on physical ability.
Circuit 1: 10 sets of lunges, 10 squats, 30 jumping jacks
Circuit 2: 30 second plank, 10 mountain-climbers, 10 regular or knee push-ups.
For 30 minutes, alternate brisk walking with 60-second intervals of jogging or running every few minutes.
40 minute leisurely walk.
5 Tips for Beginners
1) Drink plenty of water
When you exercise, you lose water through sweating, which can be dehydrating if you aren’t careful.
While there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how much water to drink, a good place to start is drinking 64 ounces of water per day.
If you have two standard 16-ounce water bottles in the morning and two again in the afternoon/evening, then you’re on the right track.
Be sure to choose plain water and not sports drinks, which are high in added sugar. Sports drinks can be useful for endurance and other elite athletes. But they aren’t necessary when you’re just starting with an exercise program.
2) Make sure you focus on nutrition
Exercising on an empty stomach or after a large meal won’t feel very good. And it can even lead to stomach upset and decreased performance.
Eat a light snack if you’re going to be exercising within an hour or two only if you haven’t eaten in a while. You don’t always need a snack before exercising, especially if you’re just getting started and are a beginner.
Avoid high-fat meals and large amounts of caffeine before a workout routine. High-fat meals take longer to digest and can result in stomach upset during exercise. While caffeine acts as a diuretic and can be dehydrating.
3) Ease into it
If you haven’t been exercising regularly and you jump into an intense workout or exercise routine, you’re more likely to strain a muscle or get injured.
It’s great to have ambitious goals, but make sure you’re realistic and patient. It takes time to build your physical fitness. So make sure you start with low-impact exercises and give yourself plenty of breaks and rest time.
The more gradual you begin with the intensity of your workouts, the quicker you’ll make lasting progress.
4) Don’t gauge your progress only by your weight
While there are countless reasons why exercising is good for you, many people are motivated to exercise to lose weight.
While exercise can be helpful for weight loss, it can be discouraging to base your progress solely on the number on the scale.
Instead, gauge your progress by fitness indicators such as how quickly you can jog a mile, how many squats you can do before you max out or how your clothes fit.
In fact, it might be helpful to put the scale away for a bit while you ease into your new exercise program.
5) Stick with what is sustainable
Find an exercise plan that works for you and stick to it. If you hate the idea of going to a gym, then you probably won’t want to go regularly.
Being active is a lifelong journey, not a short-term thing. If you enjoy being outside versus indoors, then find ways to do an exercise session outside.
On the other hand, if you prefer a gym workout and enjoy structured classes, go that route. If your exercise routine isn’t enjoyable or sustainable, then you should rethink things and make changes so that it is.
How to stay motivated
So, how can you stay motivated when you start exercising?
1) Remember your “why”
A behavior change, such as deciding to start exercising more, always results from some motivation.
Maybe you want to run a benefit race in memory of a loved one, be fit enough to run around with your kids, or improve your cholesterol numbers.
Remind yourself of your primary motivation when you feel discouraged.
2) Find a workout partner
Having someone to do your workouts with can motivate and make your workouts more enjoyable.
Whether you walk with a coworker during your lunch break, go to a workout class together or go for bike rides on the weekends, good company is a great addition to your exercise routine.
3) Set goals to gauge your progress
It can be motivating to set a goal that showcases your progress, such as running a 5k or riding your bike a certain distance.
You can even sign up for virtual races and get a medal sent to you!
4) Fit it into your routine
You’re more likely to stick with your goals if you set yourself up for success. If you don’t have time to exercise after work, go for a walk during your breaks.
If you have a hard time getting motivated to exercise once you get home, change into your workout clothes at work and drive straight to the gym or walking path.
5) Reward yourself
Rewards aren’t just for kids! It can be fun to buy a new pair of walking shoes or workout clothes that you feel good in. Or buying a nice bike that you can enjoy for years to come. It doesn’t have to cost much, either.
You can also reward yourself with things like going out for dinner at your favorite restaurant. Or going on a weekend trip with friends.
Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellness.
If you don’t already exercise regularly, it’s a good idea to be cleared for physical activity by your healthcare provider before you start exercising. It also helps to decide which type of activity you’d like to pursue.
Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, strength training, HIIT workouts, and activities that improve your balance and flexibility are all beneficial.
Despite its numerous benefits, many people don’t get enough regular physical activity.
It can also be overwhelming to think about starting exercising if you don’t already participate in an exercise program.
It can be helpful to set realistic goals, remind yourself of your motivation, and enlist a workout partner.
The most important aspect of choosing an exercise program is to choose something you enjoy doing and will be able to stick with.
Being active is a lifelong journey. So making sure you enjoy your physical activity will help you get the most benefit from it.