5 Tips for Starting an Exercise Program (and Sticking with It)
Regular physical activity is essential for healthy living, but starting a new exercise program can sometimes be the most challenging part of staying active. Many people sign up for a new gym membership or order a 10-DVD workout program, only to lose interest after a few weeks. It’s true, getting up every day and exercising is not easy, but it’s not impossible. With the right amount of planning, you can find a road to physical activity and better health that works for you … one that you will stick with for years to come.
Set Your Exercise Goals
Before you jump headfirst into a new exercise program, spend some time figuring out what your goals are. Do you want to lose weight? Build muscle? Or maybe you’re training for an extreme adventure race. When you know where you want to end up, you’ll have an easier time planning your workout routine. It’s also useful to look at what motivates you—feeling better, having more energy, fitting into your old clothes. By connecting to your internal motivators, you’ll be more likely to make it to the gym (or track or mountain) each day.
Assess Your Current Fitness
Once you have clarified your goals, you need to take a good look at where you’re starting from, including your aerobic fitness, muscle strength, flexibility and body composition. This will help you design an effective (and safe) exercise program that fits your current level of fitness. You can check in with your own body with quick tests like your pulse before and after walking one mile, the number of push-ups you can do at a time or your body mass index (BMI).
Plan Your Exercise Program
Having an exercise plan in place at the start will help you stay on track. If you aren’t following a pre-designed workout program, it might be useful to work with a personal trainer to design a plan that fits your goals. Your program should meet the current exercise guidelines—at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 or more days of strength training each week. Your program should be challenging, but also realistic—not so much that you hurt yourself, but not too little that you get bored. You also want to choose activities that you find interesting—if yoga isn’t your thing, then why force it?
Check In With Your Doctor
This is an important tip, although not everyone will need to do this. If you haven’t exercised in a while, or have been out of the game for a while due to an injury, you might want to check in with your doctor to make sure you are ready. Your doctor can help you determine what kind of exercise suits your current condition. You might also want to talk to your doctor if you have any of the following—heart condition, chest pain while exercising (or at rest), frequent dizziness, joint problems or if you are taking medications for high blood pressure or a heart condition. If in doubt, check in with your doctor.
Start Exercising Gradually
It takes time to transform your body. Many people jump into a new exercise program too quickly and either burn out or, even worse, injure themselves. If you are new to regular exercise, start with light-to-moderate intensity physical activities. This may mean adding more walking into your day (like 10 minutes after meals) before starting a high-intensity circuit training program. Give your body time to adapt to the new routine before bumping it up a notch. By starting gradually, you can also focus on exercising regularly, which helps build the habits that will carry you forward.
Make Exercise a Priority
For real changes in your life, you need to make exercise a priority. This means doing whatever you have to in order to stay on track with your workout schedule. One of the easiest ways to keep yourself accountable is to schedule appointments with yourself to exercise … and to keep those appointments. When you look at your calendar, try to keep an eye out for distractions—such as work or family—that may keep you from exercising and plan ways to deal with them ahead of time. If you struggle to find time to exercise, get up half an hour earlier. It may be a struggle in the beginning, but over time exercising in the morning will help you fall asleep faster at night.
Don’t Expect Perfection
We all want to be perfect, but let’s be realistic … it’s never going to happen. Instead of aiming for perfection, try to do your best each day. And accept that you are, after all, still human. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout. Accept it, look at why it happened and move on. There’s always another workout waiting around the corner for you.
Found these tips useful? Let us know how you plan and stick with your exercises in the comments below!