Starting an Exercise Program
Want to get into shape? Of course you do. Here's how to get started
When starting an exercise program, you need to consider your age, body build, medical history, and athletic background, as well as the resources at your disposal. Adapt these guidelines to fit your needs so you can adjust your body to an active lifestyle:
- Make exercise a part of daily life. Every little bit helps, including household chores, climbing stairs, and walking for transportation.
- Get a medical check-up before beginning a formal exercise program, especially if you are older than 40, have medical problems, or have not exercised previously.
- Make the time to exercise. Exercise is time-consuming, but it is important for health. Experiment with various schedules until you find a way to fit exercise into your life. Even people who have to sacrifice sleep or recreation generally find that exercise provides ample compensations in energy, efficiency, and enjoyment.
- Make aerobic exercise a priority; examples include walking, biking, jogging, aerobic dance, swimming, cross-country skiing, and singles racquet sports. Treadmills, stair climbers, exercise bikes, ski machines, and rowers provide similar exercise indoors. Choose the activity that is best for you. Consider your athletic experience, body build, time, finances, and personal preference. A mix of activities will provide balance, flexibility, and variety.
- Warm up before each aerobic exercise session, and cool down afterward; 10 minutes of stretching and light calisthenics are ideal and will also provide flexibility training. Consider additional stretching exercises for flexibility; they will help prevent injury by correcting the stiffness that results from sedentary living and the muscle tightness that can develop from a steady diet of aerobic and resistance exercise.
- Build in two or three sessions of strength training, using low-resistance, high-repetition exercises to keep your muscles and bones strong as you age.
- Exercise regularly. Unless you are ill or injured, try to exercise nearly every day. Start with two or three sessions a week, but build up steadily, aiming for 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise or 45-60 minutes of mild to moderate exercise on most days. Alternate harder workouts with easier ones.
- Eat and drink appropriately. Don't eat during the 2 hours before you exercise, but drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise, particularly in warmer weather.
- Dress appropriately, aiming for comfort, convenience, and safety rather than style.
- Use good equipment, especially good shoes.
- Consider getting instruction or joining a health club.
- Exercise safely. Walk or jog facing the traffic. Bike with the traffic, always wearing a helmet. Avoid heavy traffic and be cautious about remote areas, especially if you are alone. Wear bright clothing and reflecting gear after dark. Adjust your routine in weather that is hot, cold, or wet.
- Listen to your body. Learn about the warning signals of heart disease, including chest pain or pressure, disproportionate shortness of breath, fatigue, or sweating, erratic pulse, lightheadedness, or even indigestion. Don't ignore aches and pains that may signify injury; early treatment can often prevent more serious problems. Don't exercise if you are feverish or ill. Work yourself back into shape gradually after a layoff, particularly after illness or injury.