Starting an Exercise Program 101

Reader Contribution by Justine Patton
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At the start of the New Year, gyms are packed with people full of high hopes–high hopes that in just a few weeks, weight will start melting away, leaving their bodies beach-ready by summer. However, many novices have thrown in the towel on starting an exercise program by the time the snow has melted, concluding that this “exercise stuff” just isn’t for them.

I dare say you don’t have to be one of those people. Here’s how to successfully start an exercise program that will have you excited about physical activity, not dreading it.

First thing’s first: Before starting an exercise program, you need to get the go-ahead from your primary physician that says you can exercise with no restrictions.

Once you’ve gotten the okay, it’s time to assess your fitness level. Odds are, you probably have some idea about where you stand on a fitness scale. However, by getting actual numbers, you will have something to measure against later down the road. Here are a few things to consider recording:

• Your pulse rate before and after you walk one mile
• How long it takes you to walk one mile
• How many push-ups you can do at a time before resting
• How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you
• Your waist circumference as measured around your bare abdomen just above your hipbone
• Your body mass index

Keep these numbers in a safe place so you can track your progress.

After assessing your physical health, it’s time to choose what exercises to do. You don’t have to spend hours upon hours trudging on the treadmill if that isn’t your cup of tea. Instead, grab a friend and give racquetball a try at your local community center or wrangle up your family and go to the zoo or walk around the block. Make “exercise” and “fun” go hand-in-hand. And make sure you mix it up–as they say, variety is the spice of life.

You don’t have to go to a gym to exercise. Taking a brisk walk with your dog or significant other counts as physical activity, and it’s fun too!
Photo by mikecogh/Courtesy

Now, obviously you don’t always have time for fun physical activities, like a trip to the lake or the zoo, during stressful workweeks. Here are a few tips from the people at the Mayo Clinic about how to fit exercise into a busy schedule:

• Get up with the sun. Wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual and use the extra time to get moving.
• Be an active couch potato. In other words, use hand weights, ride a stationary bike, or walk on the treadmill while you catch up on your favorite shows.
• Let man’s best friend in on it. Take Fido on a walk daily. You both will benefit.
• Pencil it in. If you treat exercise as you would any other appointment by marking it on your calendar, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
• Eat and run. Instead of blindly surfing the Internet for the remainder of your lunch break, do a few laps around your building after you finish eating.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that no one becomes an athlete overnight, so don’t overwork your muscles during your first few sessions. Otherwise, you’ll never want to move again.

And remember, no one is perfect. You’re going to make mistakes, and sometimes you’re going to skip workouts. Instead of becoming discouraged, power through and stay persistent. It will pay off, I promise. 

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