Tips for getting started in an exercise program
- Focus on activities you enjoy. If you hate jogging, you won’t be able to maintain a jogging program no matter how good it is for you. On the other hand, if you love to swim, dance, or play tennis you’ll find it easier to sick with an exercise program that’s built around those activities.
- Take it slow. Start with an activity you feel comfortable doing, go at your own pace, and keep your expectations realistic. For example, training for a marathon when you’ve never run before may be a bit daunting, but you could give yourself the goal of participating in an upcoming 5k walk for charity.
- Focus on short-term goals, such as improving your mood and energy levels and reducing stress, rather than goals such as weight loss or increased muscle size, as these can take longer to achieve.
- Make exercise a priority. If you have trouble fitting exercise into your schedule, consider it an important appointment with yourself and mark it on your daily agenda. Commit to an exercise schedule for at least 3 or 4 weeks so that it becomes habit, and force yourself to stick with it. Even the busiest amongst us can find a 10-minute slot to pace up and down an office staircase or take the dog for a walk.
- Go easy on yourself. Do you feel bad about your body? Instead of being your own worst critic, try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter what your weight, age, or fitness level, there are others like you with the same goal of exercising more. Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with others of a similar fitness level. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence.
- Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.
- Get medical clearance. If you have special health issues such as an existing heart condition or high blood pressure, talk with your doctor or health practitioner and let him or her know your plans.
- Stretch. No matter what form of exercise you choose, you’ll benefit from adding stretching exercises to gain flexibility and range of motion. Stretching gently to warm up and cool down is the best form of injury-prevention for new exercisers.
- Drink plenty of water. Your body performs best when it’s properly hydrated. Failing to drink enough water when you are exerting yourself over a prolonged period of time, especially in hot conditions, can be dangerous.
Pair an activity you enjoy with your exerciseThere are numerous activities that qualify as exercise. The trick is to find something you enjoy that forces you to be active. Pairing exercise with another activity makes it easier and more fun. Simple examples include:
- Take a dance or yoga class.
- Blast some favorite music and dance with your kids.
- Make a deal with yourself to watch your favorite TV shows while on the treadmill or stationary bike.
- Workout with a buddy, and afterwards enjoy coffee or a movie.
- Enjoy outdoor activities such as golf, playing Frisbee, or even yard work or gardening.
- One year-long study found that walking an overweight dog helped both the animals and their owners lose weight (11 to 15 pounds). Researchers found that the dogs provided support in similar ways to a human exercise buddy, but with greater consistency and without any negative influence.
- Public housing residents who walked therapy dogs for up to 20 minutes, five days a week, lost an average of 14.4 pounds in a year, without changing their diets.
- If you’re not in a position to own a dog, you can volunteer to walk homeless dogs for an animal shelter or rescue group. You’ll not only be helping yourself but also be helping to socialize and exercise the dogs, making them more adoptable.
Make exercise a social activityExercise can be a fun time to socialize with friends and working out with others can help keep you motivated. For those who enjoy company but dislike competition, a running club, water aerobics, or dance class may be the perfect thing. Others may find that a little healthy competition keeps the workout fun and exciting. You might seek out tennis partners, join an adult soccer league, find a regular pickup basketball game, or join a volleyball team.
For many, a workout partner can be a great motivator. For example, if you won’t get out of bed to swim yourself, but you would never cancel on a friend, find a swim buddy.
Easy ways to start exercising tip 4: Stay motivatedNo matter how much you enjoy an exercise routine, you may find that you eventually lose interest in it. That’s the time to shake things up and try something new, add other activities to your exercise program, or alter the way you pursue the exercises that have worked so far.
Set yourself goals and rewardsRewarding yourself for reaching an exercise goal is one of the best ways to stay motivated. Set an achievable goal regarding your participation and effort, not necessarily how much weight you can lift, miles you can bike, or pounds you can lose lost. If you stumble in your efforts, regroup and begin again. Reward yourself when you reach your goals—a new pair of shoes, a dinner out, whatever works to motivate you.
Other ways to keep your exercise program going
- Be consistent. Make your workouts habitual by exercising at the same time every day, if possible. Eventually you will get to the point where you feel worse if you don’t exercise. That dull, sluggish feeling fitness buffs get when they don’t work out is a strong incentive to get up and go.
- Record your progress. Try keeping an exercise journal of your workouts. In a matter of months, it will be fun to look back at where you began. Keeping a log also holds you accountable to your routine.
- Keep it interesting. Think of your exercise session as time dedicated to you. Enjoy that time by listening to music, chatting with friends, and varying locations. Exercise around natural beauty, new neighborhoods, and special parks.
- Spread the word. Talking to others about your fitness routines will help keep motivation strong and hold you accountable to your exercise program. You’ll be delighted and inspired hearing ways your friends and colleagues stay active and on track.
- Get inspired. Read a health and fitness magazine or visit an exercise website and get inspired with photos of people being active. Sometimes reading about and looking at images of people who are healthy and fit can motivate you to move your body.
The bigger challenge may come in getting yourself back in an exercise frame of mind. Try to keep confidence in yourself when you relapse. Instead of expending energy on feeling guilty and defeated, focus on what it’ll take to get started again. Once you resume your program, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it will begin to feel natural. Here are a few tricks you might try to rekindle your motivation:
- Imagine yourself exercising. Recall the aspects of exercise you enjoy most.
- Come up with a tantalizing reward to give yourself when you meet your first goal after resuming your program.
- Line up walking partners for your next few outings.
- If completing your whole exercise routine seems overwhelming, mentally divide it into smaller chunks, and give yourself the option of stopping at the end of each one. However, when you reach a checkpoint, encourage yourself to move on to the next one instead of quitting.
- Rather than focus on why you don’t want to exercise, concentrate on how good you feel when you’ve finished a workout.