16 Essential Tips To Start A Fitness Program

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Is it tough for you to get regular exercise?

Many people feel that it is challenging to come up with an activity that seems appealing, find the time to do it, then find the time and motivation to do it again the next day, and the days and weeks and months after that.

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The tips, below, are lessons I have learned, through 12 years of regular exercise, which has led to 50 pounds of weight loss, 8 inches off my waist, a resting heart rate of 40, and the completion of numerous endurance events, including marathons and triathlons.  I have even completed an iron-distance triathlon.  It took time because I have absolutely no athletic background, but I developed into an athlete.  Oh, and I am 47 years old, have five kids, and work full time as a physician.  It is not easy, but it can be done!

  1. Discuss your exercise program with your health care provider before beginning.  This individual knows your health status and can help you start and follow a safe program with realistic goals.
  2. Try a lot of different activities. Your goal is not to stubbornly push yourself through boring workouts for month after month.  It is important to find more than one (ideally three or four) activities that are challenging and that you can enjoy.  This will help keep the workouts fresh and, if you get sore or injured from one type of activity, it may be possible to continue with one of the other activities to maintain your fitness.
  3. Learn how to do your chosen activities well.  For example, if you want to swim, get some lessons.  If you want to lift, get some sessions with a trainer to really learn how to use the equipment safely and effectively. Youtube has a lot of how-to videos.  Bookstores and libraries are also a great resource for how-to books and videos.
  4. Do not, repeat DO NOT, buy that health club membership if you are new to exercise. Instead get a no-risk trial membership and see if you like it. This is especially true if this membership is part of a New Year’s resolution.  I have been in health clubs a lot in early January.  It can be crazy crowded.  But, in a couple weeks, it is amazing how few people remain.  Studies have shown that most people do not use their health club memberships if they buy them as part of a strategy to “force themselves” to use the memberships. Don’t misunderstand me.  I strongly support health clubs.  Just have a realistic plan and goals in mind and don’t be a “two-weeks-and-out” person.
  5. If you plan to start running, DO spend the extra money on a good pair of shoes.  Running, even for experienced runners, takes a physical toll.  Good shoes make a huge difference in protecting your body.  Consider supporting your local specialty running store.  These stores are usually the best places to find the ideal shoe for you.  Shoe selection is surprisingly complex and involves, aside from shoe size and style, the shape of the bottom of your foot, your stride length, how your legs swing when you run, the types of terrain on which you plan to run, and the distances you plan to cover.
  6. If you plan to start cycling, please get a helmet.  Decent helmets are not expensive and you will never regret having one.  I am alive today because of a bicycle helmet.
  7. Get a nice outfit if you want, but I suggest keeping it simple and inexpensive at first.  First of all, if you are new to exercise, you may find that the outfit that looks the best fits you the worst. Chafing is real!  Furthermore, you may decide that another activity is more appealing and it is just a shame to waste money unnecessarily
  8. Consider getting an exercise tracker, like a Fitbit.  I encounter people every day who are wearing Fitbits and say that they are encouraged to exercise because of them.  As I discuss in other posts in this blog, Fitbits can give reasonably accurate estimates of caloric expenditure when used within their limitations.  Studies have shown, scientifically, that exercise trackers like Fitbits can be helpful parts of fitness programs.
  9. If you are new to exercise, or coming back from a long break, start slow and easy.  National recommendations for goal levels of exercise are 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise over the course of a week. In terms of exercise trackers, the goal is 7000 steps per day.
  10. Join a group.  Examples include a local charity walking or running group, a master’s swim group, a bike club, or a triathlon club.  Charity-oriented groups may be especially appealing to beginners because there is often free coaching and participants have non-exercise as well as exercise goals.  Online groups are another good option. Facebook is a great resource to find supportive, interactive fitness groups for just about any activity.
  11. Sign up for a race, but not a marathon if you are inexperienced.  Set a realistic goal, like a walking event and gradually build, if you want, into longer and more difficult events.  Some people only do 5K walks and runs and that is just fine.
  12. Check out fun stuff on the internet.  Youtube, for example, has an endless variety of workouts.
  13. Set small, attainable, goals rather than focusing on the “end.”  For example, your health care provider and you may decide that losing 1 pound a week over two months is a reasonable starting point.  Once you reach that goal, set new goals.  If you just focus on losing 40 pounds, you may get too frustrated.  Furthermore, once you have lost that 40 pounds, you are not “done.” Keep setting new goals. For example, after reaching your goal weight, you may want to set a goal of toning up your belly, losing a few more pounds, running a 5K, etc.  Just don’t stop trying to improve.
  14. Never turn on the television before doing your workout.  It is too easy to get sucked into the couch.
  15. Schedule your workouts as a regular part of your day, like meals and showers.  Don’t think of workouts as an interruption to your day, but just a part of the flow of the day. Believe me, you will reach the point at which, if you miss a workout, your day will feel incomplete.
  16. Embrace fitness as a lifestyle and never give up on yourself.  You will look better, feel better, perform better at work and in all aspects of your life, and you will be a role-model to your kids.

I hope this information helps and motivates you.  Please feel free to add additional tips that you have learned in the “comments” section of this page.

Be healthy and be safe!

Posted April 1, 2015

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