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Tips for Starting an Exercise Program

By, Brendan Sullivan, PT, MSPT, OCS, Lead Physical Therapist, Fern Hill

It is that time of year when people put exercise at the top of their New Year's Resolution list. Although many start with the best of intentions, often times, that initial motivation and vigor is not sustained to keep exercise as a regular part of their life. Life often "gets in the way" as people are busy with work and kids and, unfortunately, their personal health is neglected.

Since inactivity and obesity are common risk factors for heart disease (heart failure heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, it is important to incorporate exercise into our lives. Did you know that more than 630,000 people died from heart disease in the United States in 2006? Although there has been a decline in these types of death since 1996, it is the leading cause of death among men and women.

We all know that exercise can help us to be healthier and to look and feel better (reduce stress, sleep better, boost energy levels, but making those lifestyle changes to make exercise a priority in our lives is easier said than done as it is estimated that only 1/3 of adults regularly work out.

First, some facts:

Calories burned every 10 minutes:
Running 130
Swimming 105
Cycling 65

During their lifetime, the average person will have walked the equivalent of three (3) times around the earth.

Getting started:

  • Decide that you are going to begin to exercise
  • Commit to making it a priority : Write it down. Set goals and timelines. Write a contract with yourself.
  • Get cleared by your Physician to make sure it is safe to exercise
  • Decide on what you want to do to exercise : Weights, cardiovascular training (bike, run, walk, swim), at home or in a gym? Join a recreational sports league? Do something you enjoy - to help you stick with it.
  • Surround yourself with people to support and motivate you; find someone to exercise with : Help them help you make lifestyle changes as it relates to diet and motivate you.
  • Set realistic, measurable goals : Chart your workouts so you can see your progress and regularly review your goals.
  • Do it!

Maintaining your progress:

  • Start out easy and increase as you are able. Try to achieve for 30-60 minutes of exercise 3-5 times per week. If you have not worked out in your life or not in a long time, you may be able to only tolerate 5-10 minutes. That is okay. Keep it up and as your body adapts to those changes you will be able to increase your time. Doing too much too soon can cause injury. Incorporate cardiovascular, light weight training, and flexibility training.
  • Consider classes at gyms or working with a qualified personal trainer. Aquatics is a great environment for those with joint pain as the buoyancy of the water helps to minimize the stress and strain on joints. It is also allows for easy transition from cardiovascular to resistance training.
  • Make smart decision as it relates to diet/nutrition. Seek advice from qualified professionals (i.e. Dieticians) to ensure what you are eating is appropriate and in safe amounts.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Schedule the time to work out as you would any other appointment you have.

Think you are too busy to work out? You can always find time during the day:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Do squats while brushing your teeth.
  • Exercise while watching TV.
  • Walk when on the phone.
  • Park farther away from stores and walk.

Each time you work out:

  • Have a plan
  • Make sure you are hydrated
  • Warm-up well and stretch to avoid injury
  • Chart your work out
  • Cool-down and stretch
  • Replace lost fluids

Expect to be sore (delayed onset muscle soreness) after you begin an exercise program or exercise vigorously. This is a perfectly normal phenomenon and usually begins 24-48 hours after the activity. It usually resolves within a few days of onset. Don't let this soreness stop you - just work out a different muscle groups or modify your exercise regimen until it resolves.

Stop exercising and see your Physician if you experience:

  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Joint pain or swelling

Exercise and Heart Disease Statistics. LIVESTRONG.COM
Elizabeth Quinn, How Do I Start Exercising?, About.com

Last Updated: 1/3/2011