If you want to be in better physical shape, you're not alone. Many people strive to look and feel healthier. Maybe you have made resolutions to shape up, only to see them melt away before you made much progress.
Saying you will get into an exercise routine is much easier than actually doing it. It takes time and effort. Other things get in the way. You may feel that it's just too hard.
But you can make a commitment to fitness — and stick to it. It's important to make exercise a part of a normal day, like eating, working and getting dressed.
Where to begin?
Health experts say it all starts with a realistic plan. Your goal is to change from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one. By changing your behaviors, you can reap health benefits, both physical and mental, that will last a lifetime.
Here are some guidelines to get started.
- Start small. Don't set unreasonable goals for yourself. If you do, you could injure yourself. Or you might get discouraged and give up.
- Select an activity that you can enjoy. If you like being around people, joining a fitness club or taking an exercise class might suit you. But if you're just getting started, working out at home gives you a chance to try out new pursuits without making a big investment.
- Pick something you can do year-round. Ideally it's something you can do indoors or outdoors. Weather shouldn't be an easy excuse not to work out.
- Put it on your schedule. You make time for doctor's appointments, haircuts and other obligations, don't you? Set an appointment with yourself. Aim for at least 30 minutes on most days. Break it into two sessions if you're pressed for time.
- Gear up. Buy a good pair of athletic shoes and wear comfortable clothes. Your plan might include some modest home-exercise equipment. Something simple such as light hand weights are a good place to start.
- Warm up, cool down. This means doing an activity at a slower speed or lower intensity. Stretching can help increase flexibility, but flexibility exercises have no known health benefits and it's not clear if they lower the risk of injury. Stretching is usually only recommended after exercise.
How much is enough?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get both aerobic and strengthening exercise each week.
Aerobic exercise. Exercise that makes you breathe harder and get your heart pumping faster is called aerobic exercise. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise includes things like brisk walking, dancing, pushing a lawn mower, water aerobics, playing doubles tennis, and riding a bike on level or slightly hilly ground. Vigorous-intensity aerobics take more energy. Those activities include running or jogging, playing basketball, swimming laps, riding a bike fast or on hills, and playing singles tennis.
Here's a good way to tell how intense your exercise level is: If you are at a moderate level, you're still able to talk but not sing. If you are at a vigorous level, you won't be able to say more than a few words before taking a breath.
Adults need at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Or, you can get a similar benefit from an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.
As a third option, you can mix it up. Include both moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. It should be the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. Vigorous activity counts for double the amount of time. So, for example, you can meet the goal by doing moderate activity for one hour (60 minutes) and vigorous exercise for 45 minutes.
Feel free to spread the exercise throughout the week. In fact, it's best that way. You can break up your activity into chunks as small as 10 minutes and still get the benefit of the exercise.
Strength training. Along with aerobic exercise, you need to keep your muscles in shape. It's important to work on all the major muscle groups. Those are the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Strength training exercises include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, push-ups, sit-ups, heavy gardening and yoga.
Adults need muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week. The muscle-strengthening exercises do not count toward the aerobic time you need.
Other ways to build regular activity in your life are:
- Walk your children to school
- Go up hills instead of around them
- Pace the sidelines or circle the field at your kids' games
- Do sit-ups in front of the TV. Have a sit-up contest with your kids
- Wash the car by hand
- Take a family walk after dinner
Doing moderate activity is safe for most people. It's a great idea to talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your level of activity. And check with your doctor about a new exercise program if you have a chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.
Sticking with it
Tracking your progress on a chart might motivate you. Write down the number of minutes you exercise each day, or how far you've walked or jogged. Your workouts will soon become a healthy habit.
Try these tips to make sure you stick to your new routine:
- Keep it interesting. Vary your routine so you don't get bored. Mix up aerobic and strength training on consecutive days.
- Expect a little muscle soreness. Some soreness is typical, especially when you're just getting started. It will go away as you exercise. However, noticeable pain or swelling are signs to stop and rest.
- Exercise with a buddy. This can keep you and your friend motivated and on track. Maybe you can find a friend at work to walk with at lunchtime.
- Set a goal. Working toward an event like a 5K fun run or organizing a group outing will give you something to look forward to. Maybe your goal is a certain number of pounds lost, or taking an inch off your waist. You'll feel great once you hit your mark, and then it's time to stretch yourself a little more.
- Don't stop! The benefits of exercise start to wear off in two weeks and can disappear in as little as two months.
- Give yourself credit. Congratulate yourself with a small reward, like an exercise tape or a book. The best reward of all is feeling better about your healthy choices.
Ginny Greene contributed to this report.
These Web sites are for your informational use only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It may not represent your true individual medical situation. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting a qualified health care provider. Also consult your healthcare provider before starting any medications or supplements or beginning or modifying any exercise program.
© 2013 OptumHealth, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of information on this page may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of OptumHealth, Inc.
*DISCLAIMER*: The information contained in or provided through this site section is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional advice. Use of this site section and any information contained on or provided through this site section is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site section is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.