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Start Exercising

A Beginner's Guide to Starting an Exercise Program

Regular exercise does more than help improve physical fitness and personal appearance. It also promotes better overall health in a variety of ways including:

  • Reducing body fat

  • Lowering resting blood pressure

  • Improving cholesterol scores

  • Reducing risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, osteoporosis, and low back pain

It also puts more energy and enjoyment in your life.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults exercise aerobically a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times a week. In addition, it advises performing resistance exercise at least twice a week. Resistance exercise can include eight to10 basic exercises that address the major muscle groups.

The following guidelines will help you plan a safe and effective exercise program.


Get your doctor's OK before starting an exercise routine if you've been sedentary for more than a year, are over 35, are pregnant or have heart disease, high blood pressure, or another medical condition.


Start exercising gradually and work up to a more intense routine. For example: Start out by walking for up to 20 minutes three times the first week. When you can do this without difficulty, begin an interval training routine that is more interesting and effective. Interval training involves swapping short periods of intense exercise with an easier activity or rest every few minutes. Here's a routine to try:

  • Walk 2 minutes at a fast pace.

  • Walk 2 minutes at a slower pace.

  • Switch between fast and slow cycles for 20 minutes.

As you become fitter, you'll be able to increase your fast interval time or lengthen your walking time or distance.


Find an activity you enjoy and look forward to doing. Exercise will then become more of a reward than a chore. Set reasonable workout times and performance goals. If you're always pressed for time, schedule 20- to 30-minute training sessions instead of 60-minute workouts. If you're new to running, and your goal is to run a 5K or 10K race, give yourself enough time to safely train for the event.


Designate time in your schedule just for exercise. Choose a time you're most likely to be able to adhere to.


Get instruction from a professional when you start a new activity. You'll reduce the likelihood of injury and be a better player because you'll learn proper form and technique.


Improper footwear or worn-out shoes can cause pain and injury. Shop for shoes at a reputable shoe or sporting-goods store where knowledgeable staff can recommend the appropriate shoe style for your foot type. If you plan to participate in several activities, consider purchasing a cross-training shoe suitable to those activities.

Pay attention to how your shoes are wearing. Replace them when they start losing their support.


Use the appropriate protective gear. Racquetball players should wear eye protection; in-line skaters need wrist, knee and elbow guards; and cyclists should wear helmets.

Have your grip measured by a knowledgeable salesperson if you're taking up racquetball or tennis. Using the wrong grip size can increase your risk of tennis elbow and wrist and hand pain.


Warming up before aerobic exercise or weight lifting improves your muscle function as it reduces your risk of injury and abnormal heart rate. A 5- to 10-minute warm-up is enough for most activities.

For a general warm-up, try: jogging in place, walking briskly, or cycling on a stationary bicycle. Then, perform some controlled dynamic stretches—like arm circles and knee lifts.

Depending on your activity, you may want to add a warm-up specific to your sport. For example: Tennis players can volley back and forth before starting a match.

Easy Does It If You Have a Health Problem

You can still take part in a moderate exercise program if you have diabetes, heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure, or any other medical condition. But use common sense, avoid high-risk activities and check with your doctor before beginning to work out.

Keep these precautions in mind once your physician gives you the go-ahead:

  • If you have high blood pressure, don't do isometrics; don't use hand weights while exercising; and don't exercise with your arms above your head for extended periods. Maintain low to moderate intensity when walking, dancing, bicycling, or performing any other aerobic exercise.

  • If you're a stroke victim or have coronary heart disease, maintain low to moderate intensity during aerobic exercise. Don't use hand weights while exercising.

  • If you have arthritis, begin each workout with a gentle but thorough warm-up. Stop an activity that becomes painful. Participate in low-impact activities such as cycling, rowing, and swimming.

  • If you suffer from lower-back pain, stop a workout or other activity that causes or increases pain. Don't use hand or leg weights when doing any aerobic activity, and avoid twisting your upper body or bending forward in an unsupported position.

  • If you're diabetic, always carry digestible carbohydrates such as candy or fruit juice in case you experience hypoglycemia.

  • If you have asthma, begin your workouts with a gentle warm-up. Always have bronchodilator medications on hand.

Sticking With Your Resolve to Exercise

Until the exercise habit becomes as much a part of your life as eating and sleeping, part of you will look for reasons to quit. The following suggestions will help you stay committed to getting in shape.


  • Define your goals. Having specific fitness goals helps you stay focused and able to choose the best workout for you. Goals also help you stick with your regimen when you're tempted to let it slide.

  • Pay attention to your inner voice. Re-evaluate your exercise program if you start feeling like you don't have enough time to work out. Maybe the program requires more time than you can spare. You may need to exercise less often or for a shorter time period. If so, circuit training (performing one set of different exercises with only a few seconds rest between each) should provide a more appropriate, time-efficient regiment.

  • Go the distance. Consider setting a long-term distance goal for yourself if you walk, run, swim, or bicycle for fitness. For example: Estimate the distance from your home to your favorite fantasy-vacation destination. Keep a daily log of your mileage as you work your way to paradise.

  • Reward yourself along the way. Promise to buy yourself a treat when you reach a short-term goal. New athletic shoes, clothes, or tickets to a professional sports event may motivate you to stick with your program.

  • Make your goals known. Sharing your goals with others makes it harder for you to skip your workout allows you to get encouragement from friends and family.

  • Find an exercise partner. Besides making exercise more enjoyable, working out with a friend or spouse increases your chances of sticking with your exercise program by 65 percent.

  • Do more than one sport or fitness routine. Working out at a variety of activities can keep boredom at bay. You might try: Swimming on Mondays, walking on Wednesdays, and taking an exercise class on Saturdays. This approach, known as cross-training, reduces your risk for overuse injuries. It also provides a more complete conditioning effect.

  • Track your progress. Results-oriented individuals often derive satisfaction from tracking their progress. Record the particulars of each workout into a logbook or input them into a fitness-tracking computer program.

  • Shake things up. Exercise after work for a week or two if you usually exercise before work. Switch to a stationary bicycle for several workouts if you usually walk on a treadmill. Sign up for a four-week exercise class if you usually exercise alone. Work out at a faster or slower pace than you normally do. Changing your routine breaks the monotony and lets you try new activities that you may find you prefer.

  • Get help. You may consider quitting your routine if your progress slows. But book a few sessions with a fitness professional or trainer before you quit. A pro can help you fine-tune your workout to bring faster results. Work with a trainer at your health club or gym or hire a personal trainer.

  • Keep your mind active. Start listening to music or a book on tape while you exercise on a fitness machine if you find yourself watching the clock during your workouts.

  • Take time off. Take a break for a few days if you feel burned out. Use the time off to re-evaluate your goals and fitness activities.

  • Become more active. Don't think of exercise as something that's confined to the gym. Go for a walk after dinner. Park your car a few blocks from your destination.

  • Utilize the strength you've developed. Fitness is not just for looks. Go out and use it.

Fitting Fitness Into a Busy Schedule

As much as you'd like to start exercising and get in better shape and health, you may find it difficult to find the time on a regular basis.

These suggestions can help you do so:

  • Break it up. If you don't have a half-hour or an hour to exercise all at once, that's OK. Studies show you'll still get benefits by working out for just 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Find two or three short periods during your day.

  • Make an appointment with yourself. If you're a slave to your schedule, schedule time for fitness, too.

  • Make it easy on yourself. Find a place to work out that's close and convenient. For ultimate convenience, you can exercise at home with a simple set of hand weights or on a staircase.

  • Do it early. If you leave your fitness routine until the end of your day, it'll fall victim to every over-long meeting and traffic delay. Get out and get going first thing in the morning. That way it's done—and it's a great way to start your day.

  • Lunch on fitness. Instead of spending your lunch period at your desk or in the cafeteria, brown bag it and take a brisk walk.

  • Make weekends count. If you struggle to squeeze in short periods of exercise during the week, schedule an hour per day on Saturday and Sunday for longer activities (such as hiking, biking, and canoeing) to build endurance, manage stress, and remind yourself that exercise is fun. Don't over do it though.

  • Do two things at once. If you simply can't turn off your favorite television show, do floor stretches or step-ups in front of the TV. Grab a hand weight and do some bicep curls while you read your morning newspaper.

  • Work out with the dog or your kids. Bicycle with your children, or, if they're younger, trot alongside them while they bike. When you take them to soccer practice, do a lap around the field or climb the bleachers a few times instead of just sitting and watching.

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ATTENTION: Information delivered through Vitality-on-Demand(TM) is the opinion of the sourced authors and organizations. Personal decisions regarding health, diet, exercise or other matters should be made only after consultation with the reader's own medical and professional advisers. This material MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED FOR REDISTRIBUTION without written permission from Vitality®.


© 2011 Krames StayWell 2011. The information in this newsletter is intended to be used as a general guideline and should not replace the advice of your doctor. Always consult your doctor for personal decisions. Models used for illustrative purposes only. Material may not be reproduced without written permission from StayWell Custom Communications.