Whether it’s the gym, jogging, biking or walking, if you’re thinking about starting a fitness program, congratulations! You are only five short steps away from a healthier lifestyle.
Becoming physically active can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination and help you lose weight. Physical activity can even improve your sleep habits and self-esteem. Here are 5 simple steps to starting a fitness program.
1. Assess your current fitness level
You probably have a good idea of how fit you are. But assessing and recording baseline fitness scores can give you benchmarks against which to measure your progress. Consider recording the following to assess your current aerobic and muscular fitness, and flexibility:
- Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1.6 kilometers (1 mile)
- How long it takes you to walk or run 2 kilometers (1.2 miles)
- How many half sit-ups, standard push-ups or modified push-ups you can do at a time
- Stretching, how far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you
- Your waist circumference
- Your body mass index (BMI)
2. Design your personal fitness program
Designing your fitness program doesn’t have to be daunting. As you design your fitness program, keep these points in mind:
- Consider your fitness goals. Having clear goals can help you gauge your progress and stay motivated. Are you starting a fitness program to help lose weight? Or do you have another motivation, such as training for a marathon?
- Balanced routine. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. Try to get about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week. Also try to incorporate strength training of all your major muscle groups two days a week.
- Start low and progress slowly. If you’re just beginning to exercise, start cautiously and progress slowly. Consult your doctor or a physical therapist for help designing a fitness program if you have an injury or a medical condition.
- Include different activities. Keep boredom from creeping into your exercise program by adding different activities (cross-training). Using low-impact forms of activity, such as biking or water exercise can reduce your chances of injuring or over working one specific muscle or joint.
- Add it into your daily routine. To make it easier, schedule time to exercise as you would any other appointment. Watch your favorite show while walking on the treadmill, read while riding a stationary bike, or take a break at work to go on a walk.
- Allow time for recovery. Plan time between sessions for your body to rest and recover. When first starting out many people can be overzealous, be sure to plan for ‘rest days’ to recover.
3. Assemble your equipment
You’ll likely start with athletic shoes. With such a wide variety available, be sure to pick ones designed for the activity you have in mind. For example,
cross-training shoes are more supportive but heavier than running shoes.
If you’re considering investing in exercise equipment, you may want to try out certain types of equipment at a fitness center before making any purchases. Try choosing something practical, enjoyable and easy to use.
Consider using a fitness app or other activity tracking devices, such as ones that can track your steps, distance, calories burned or monitor your heart rate.
4. Get started
Now you’re ready for action. As you begin, keep these tips in mind:
- Start slowly and build up gradually. Give yourself plenty of time to warm up and cool down with easy walking or gentle stretching. As your stamina improves, you can gradually increase the amount of time you exercise. Gradually work your way up to 30 minutes or an hour of exercise most days of the week.
- Break things up if you have to. You don’t have to do all your exercise at one time, so you can weave in activity throughout your day. Shorter but more-frequent sessions have aerobic benefits, too. Exercising in short sessions a few times a day may fit into your schedule better than a single 30-minute session. Any amount of activity is better than none at all.
- Make being active part of your lifestyle. Try planning some family activities like taking a hike or going for a bike ride together. It will encourage other family members and increase your enjoyment of being active.
- Listen to your body. If you feel any pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break. Avoid pushing yourself too hard.
- Be flexible. If you’re not feeling well, give yourself permission to take a day or two off as needed.
5. Monitor your progress
Repeat step 1 after six weeks to re-assess your fitness level and then again every few months. You may determine you are exercising the perfect amount to reach your goals, or that you need to increase the amount of time you exercise in order to continue improving.
Starting an exercise program can establish a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you’ll be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.