Starting an Exercise Program
Making exercise part of your daily life isn't hard if you make it a priority. To do that, you need to develop goals and an exercise plan that matches your needs and interests. These steps can help you define your personal goals and put them into action. Be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.
It is always important to consult your doctor before starting an exercise program. This is particularly true if any of the following apply to your current health status:
- Chest pain or pain in the neck and/or arm
- Shortness of breath
- A diagnosed heart condition
- Joint and/or bone problems
- Currently taking cardiac and/or blood pressure medications
- Have not previously been physically active
When beginning an exercise program, be sure to start gradually and sensibly. However, if you feel any of the physical symptoms listed above when you start your exercise program, contact your doctor right away. An exercise stress test may be used to help plan your exercise program.
Determine what you want to achieve through exercise. Do you need to lose weight? Help maintain a healthy weight? Reduce your risk for heart disease? Get in better shape? Knowing what motivates you can help you stay focused.
Regular exercise offers a variety of benefits. It may reduce your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. It may also lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and boost high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol levels. It also helps with weight control, and builds and maintains healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
Think about the type of exercise that will meet your goals. If your goal is endurance, gradually build up the amount of time you work out. If you want to lose weight, you need to do aerobic exercise, such as walking or jogging, for at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. If you are concerned about osteoporosis, weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, will help build strong bones. If you're not sure what exercise is best for your needs, talk with your health care provider. The most effective exercise program includes aerobic exercise on some days, exercises to improve strength on other days, and balance and flexibility exercises on most days. Try to find an exercise routine that you enjoy, then commit to doing it.
Choose your workout time wisely. If you schedule your workout for the morning, but you are not a morning person, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Pick the time of day when you have the most energy and enthusiasm. Do you enjoy getting up early and starting the day off with a brisk walk? Or do you prefer working out your stress at the end of the day? Whatever your answer, that's when you should schedule most of your exercise.
Once you've figured out a fitness program, you need to stay motivated to continue with it. One of the differences between a person who exercises regularly and a person who doesn't is motivation. These tips can help you put on your sneakers instead of turning on the television:
Make exercise a priority. When you plan your week, schedule time for exercise, and treat it like an appointment that you can't break.
Track your workouts. Try marking an X on your calendar every day that you work out. This may give you a sense of accomplishment, which will help you keep going.
Keep an exercise diary. Another way to monitor your workouts is with an exercise diary. Note how long and how far you bike or walk, how much weight you lift, or how many laps you swim. Or, if you own a computer, you may want to keep track on a spreadsheet. This record may help motivate you to keep going.
Join an event. Sign up for a fitness event such as a 5K run, a charity bike ride, or walkathon. Getting in shape to compete in a race can be a good motivator. A charity event can be motivating because when you cross the finish line, other people will benefit, too.
Exercise with a partner. Finding a friend to share your workouts gives you a chance to be social while you get fit. Knowing that your friend is relying on you will help keep you motivated.
If you end up sliding back into old habits, don't consider yourself a failure. It just means that you're human. Try to look at a setback as part of the process of making change. If you skip a few workouts, make a plan to simply start again the next day.
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