Beginning exercise for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, can be very daunting.
If you’re planning to start exercising, or making a comeback to exercise after a long break, consider following this ten point plan which will not only help you get started, but hopefully help you to make exercise part of your daily life.
Point One – Get a Medical Check
Anyone planning to start a new exercise program should consult with their doctor first, particularly if they’ve never really exercised before, haven’t exercised for an extended period, or have known pre-existing medical conditions.
If you visit a doctor who is familiar with your medical history, they will be able to provide some guidance, and hopefully reassurance and encouragement if you tell them what you’re planning to do, how often and why.
What most doctors will be most concerned about is your heart health. Doctors know that exercise is good for your heart, but they’ll want to be sure that you don’t put too much stress on your heart initially, and will likely want to take your blood pressure and your pulse, listen to your heart beat and lungs functioning, and ask you about your family medical history with regards to heart disease, etc.
Point Two – Set Goals
Setting goals for yourself is important when it comes to exercise. Goals help you plan your exercise, track your progress and motivate you when you don’t feel like exercising.
It’s also useful to set both short and long term goals. If you only set a short term goal, once you’ve reached it there’s nothing else to work towards. If you only set a long term goal, you’ll miss the sense of achievement so crucial to achieving your long term goal and you may lose interest because your objective is too far in the future.
Common exercise related goals are:
- Participate in an organised fun run, walk or bike ride
- Walk, jog or bike ride a certain distance
- Get stronger and leaner
- Increase body measurements in some areas and decrease them in others
- Tone up muscles
- Increase general fitness
- Feel healthier and have more energy
- Lose weight
If one of your goals is to lose weight, make this a longer term goal and focus on short term goals that encourage and assist you to make exercise part of your daily routine. If you can do that, the weight loss will take care of itself.
What you ideally want to do is develop a love for exercise and being active so that it becomes a lifelong endeavour that will improve the overall quality of your life.
Point Three – Find Something Easy
When you first start exercising it doesn’t really matter what you do, all that matters is that you do something and that exercising becomes a habit.
If you do something that’s too hard, chances are you won’t stick with it.
It’s better to start with an exercise that’s not too taxing which will encourage you to do it often.
Great examples of exercise that is relatively easy to do are:
- Water Aerobics
- Weight training with light weights
The great thing about all these types of exercise is that you can vary the intensity and duration of the exercise very easily. For example, if you can only walk slowly for a few hundred metres initially, that’s fine, just do that and build up to longer distances from there.
Point Four – Find Something You Enjoy
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of exercising and built up a base level of fitness, you can start experimenting with different types of exercise to find things you really enjoy doing.
If you want to make exercise a part of your daily routine for the rest of your life, it’s important that you enjoy exercising.
One way to increase your enjoyment of exercise is to combine it with other things you enjoy, like listening to music on your iPod, watching TV (while exercising on a treadmill, stepper, exercise bike, etc), catching up with friends and even eating.
This last example may seem odd, but there’s nothing more enjoyable than rewarding yourself with a tasty, but healthy snack or meal after you’ve had a challenging workout.
Point Five – Start Off Easy
One of the most important things to do when starting a new exercise program is to start off easy.
Exercising inside your comfort zone for an extended period after starting an exercise program will minimise the risk of injury, will increase your level of enjoyment, and will increase the likelihood that you will continue to exercise.
Point Six – Progress Slowly
When you begin a new exercise program, plan to progress slowly.
Sometimes it’s useful to use the FITT Principle to help you plan and regulate your exercise progress.
FITT stands for:
- Frequency of exercise
- Intensity of exercise
- Time spent exercising
- Type of exercise
By varying these factors, you can ensure that your progress to ‘fit and fabulous’ is slow and controlled, which provides the best long term results.
As a general guide, it is often recommended that you don’t increase any of the top three factors above by any more than 10% at a time. For example, it’s not considered a good idea to increase your workout time from 30 minutes to 60 minutes overnight. Rather, increase it in 5 minute increments per week until you achieve 60 minutes.
Point Seven – Be Patient
Most people that start exercising and don’t stick with it do so because they lack patience. They typically want results yesterday and with very little effort. I’m sorry to say it, but unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.
The key to being patient is to set longer term goals and plan a slow steady progression as discussed above.
When it comes to exercising for health and weight loss, remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race.
Point Eight – Stretch
When you first start doing any exercise, it’s going to be a little bit of a shock to your body, especially your muscles. In response to exercise, muscles can tighten up causing imbalances across muscle groups which if not addressed can cause muscle injury.
One of the best ways to avoid this, in addition to starting off easy and progressing slowly, is to do some light stretching before and after your exercise.
And remember not to just stretch the muscles you’ll be using during your workout. The muscles surrounding those muscles, and muscles you don’t even think of, may be affected by the exercise you’re doing because our muscles are interconnected throughout our bodies.
By doing a routine that stretches all the main muscle groups you’ll minimise the chance of injury and maximise your enjoyment of the activities you have planned.
Point Nine – Consider Massage
If you do incorporate light stretches into your exercise routine and your muscles get overly sore or tight, consider having sports massages regularly.
A good masseur will identify trouble spots before they become a problem, and will help you overcome niggles as they arise.
Point Ten – Mix It Up
From time to time you will want to mix your exercise program up a bit and from time to time you may be forced to do different things because of injury.
Doing a variety of exercises will also help you get the most out of your routine in terms of cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, flexibility and of course weight management.
As you get good at one type of exercise, try another one to supplement what you’re getting good at. For example, if you’re preferred exercise is walking, go for a bike ride every once in awhile to break up your routine and challenge your body a bit more.
As well as using different muscles, you’ll be invigorated by the variety and you’ll find it beneficial to the other activities that you usually do.
Using the FITT principle is a great way to plan some variety into your exercise program, so don’t forget to use it.