One of your New Year's resolutions for 2012 is to start exercising to improve your health. Good for you! Research shows that regular physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and improve your balance and coordination. Exercise can also help you lose weight, sleep better and boost your self-confidence. But if you are new to the world of exercise, you may be wondering what you should do first. How do you start an exercise program? How much should you be exercising? What's the best type of exercise for beginners?
"The first step to beginning any new exercise routine is to determine how fit you are," explains Alisha Fielder, Wellness/Fitness Program Manager for Houston Healthcare's Health Connections Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. "It's always wise to first consult with your physician to find out if you are healthy enough and physically able to exercise. Anyone with major health risks and anyone 45 years old or older should get medical clearance from their physician before they begin any kind of physical activity."
The American Heart Association recommends adults aim for 30 minutes of moderately-intense physical activity, such as walking, on most days of the week. For children over the age of two, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.
"If you can't manage the entire 30 mintues at one time, you can break it up into 10 minute blocks throughout the day. You're still going to see benefits because you're moving. Just fit exercise into your day whenever you can," adds Fielder.
The next step is to set specific, manageable exercise goals. For example, plan to exercise 30 minutes at least three times a week, or train to run a 5K, or even walk down the street without getting winded.
"Whatever your goals are, make sure they are clear and realistic," says Fielder. "If you've never exercised before, don't make your goal to run a 5K in three weeks. You're just setting yourself up for failure, not to mention injuries. Instead, break that goal down into manageable chunks, say running one mile in one month as your first step toward running that 5K."
For exercise newbies, one of the easiest forms is simply walking and clipping on a pedometer can add extra motivation as you watch the number of steps add up. "You want to try to walk 10,000 to 15,000 steps each day, but even walking 5,000 or less is a good start," says Fielder. "You don't need to use weights on your arms or legs when you walk because that can hurt your joints. Just walk and move."
The most important step to remember when beginning any exercise program is to start small and go slow. "Exercise at your own pace," cautions Fielder. "The biggest mistake beginners make is exercising too hard and too much because they think that will get them instant results. Instead, you end up sore, tired or hurt, and then you get discouraged and quit. What you really want to do is choose activities that you enjoy and can get into the habit of doing every day."