Easing Into Exercise Habits

and Getting Them to Stick!

Movement is life to our bodies

Next to a healthy balanced diet, starting a fitness program or any regularly scheduled physical activity is the very best things you can do for your health. Physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, decrease stress, help you maintain healthy weight, improve your sleep habits and self-esteem.

For the beginning exerciser, learning how to fit physical activity into an already busy life can feel overwhelming. Very few people wake up one morning and successfully transition from a couch potato to an athlete in a single day. It takes desire and focus but, most importantly a plan.

So how do you create a healthy active lifestyle? It is accomplished by understanding that small changes together create a huge payoff. It is important to think of exercise as a habit and not a chore. Start slowly. Here are few suggestions that help ease you off the couch and into healthier lifestyle practices:

1. Plan a 10 minute walk after meals.

To a busy person, 30 minutes of exercise daily can feel like an eternity. Where can I find 30 more minutes in my day? But, an extra 10 minutes can feel much more manageable. A sneaky way of getting 30 minutes of walking per day is to take a 10 minute walk after each meal. You will feel better, tend to eat less, and will be meeting the minimum requirements for exercise and health!

2. Be an early riser.

I like to encourage beginners to set their alarm 30 minutes earlier than they usually get up. They can take that time to meditate, plan their day, go for a short walk or jog, do some yoga, or even complete a quick exercise routine. Most people find that they don't miss that extra half-hour of sleep, and reap major rewards for starting the day off active!

3. Choose to be active.

Take the stairs. Park further away. Take the dog for a walk. Walk over and talk to that coworker instead of sending an email. These choices do add up, and can help ease people into a more active lifestyle.

4. Make exercise a priority.

If we wait until we have time to exercise, we will never exercise. Successful exercisers make exercise a priority. Look at the calendar for the week, and schedule the time that you are going to spend on yourself each day. If you make an appointment with yourself, you are more likely to keep that appointment.

5. No one is perfect.

Read that again: no one is perfect. Everyone is allowed to have one bad day, just make sure that one bad day doesn't turn into a bad month, followed by a bad year. Most people think that if they have a bad day or week, that they have failed and often stop their exercise habit. If you fall off the wagon, just jump back on. Consistency is key! Something is always better than

Lifestyle change is a process, not a destination!

As we become more active it is natural and even encouraged to take exercise to a higher level. It is important to build lean muscle, improve stamina and flexibility. Below are a few suggestions to safely increase activity and avoid injury

Step 1: Assess your fitness level

You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But assessing and recording baseline fitness scores can give you benchmarks against which to measure your progress. To assess your aerobic and muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition, consider recording:

  • Your pulse rate before and after you walk 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • How long it takes you to walk 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • How many push-ups you can do at a time
  • How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you
  • Your waist circumference as measured around your bare abdomen just above your hipbone
  • Your body mass index

Step 2: Design your fitness program

It's easy to say that you'll exercise every day. But you'll need a plan. As you design your fitness program, keep these points in mind:

  • Consider your fitness goals. Are you starting a fitness program to help lose weight? Or do you have another motivation, such as preparing for a marathon? Having clear goals can help you gauge your progress.
  • Create a balanced routine. Most adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week. Adults also need two or more days of strength training a week.
  • Go at your own pace. If you're just beginning to exercise, start cautiously and progress slowly. If you have an injury or a medical condition, consult your doctor or a physical therapist for help designing a fitness program that gradually improves your range of motion, strength and endurance.
  • Build activity into your daily routine. Finding time to exercise can be a challenge. To make it easier, schedule time to exercise as you would any other appointment. Plan to watch your favorite show while walking on the treadmill, or read while riding a stationary bike.
  • Plan to include different activities. Different activities (cross-training) can keep exercise boredom at bay. Cross-training also reduces your chances of injuring or overusing one specific muscle or joint. Plan to alternate among activities that emphasize different parts of your body, such as walking, swimming and strength training.
  • Allow time for recovery. Many people start exercising with frenzied zeal — working out too long or too intensely — and give up when their muscles and joints become sore or injured. Plan time between sessions for your body to rest and recover.
  • Put it on paper. A written plan will encourage you to stay on track.

Step 3: Assemble your equipment and a workout buddy

You'll probably start with athletic shoes. Be sure to pick shoes designed for the activity you have in mind.

If you're planning to invest in exercise equipment, choose something that's practical, enjoyable and easy to use. You may want to try out certain types of equipment at a fitness center before investing in your own equipment. To stretch your exercise dollars, consider buying used equipment.

Also, if possible, find a work out buddy. This will dramatically improve your success both short term and long.

Step 4: Get started

Now you're ready for action. As you begin your fitness program, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start slowly and build up gradually. Give yourself plenty of time to warm up and cool down with easy walking or gentle stretching. Then speed up to a pace you can continue for five to 10 minutes without getting overly tired. As your stamina improves, gradually increase the amount of time you exercise. Work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Break things up if you have to. You don't have to do all your exercise at one time. Shorter but more-frequent sessions have aerobic benefits, too. Fifteen minutes of exercise a couple of times a day may fit into your schedule better than a single 30-minute session.
  • Be creative. Maybe your workout routine includes various activities, such as walking, bicycling or rowing. But don't stop there. Take a weekend hike with your family or spend an evening ballroom dancing.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break. You may be pushing yourself too hard.
  • Be flexible. If you're not feeling good, give yourself permission to take a day or two off.

Step 5: Monitor your progress

Retake your personal fitness assessment six weeks after you start your program and then again every three to six months. You may notice that you need to increase the amount of time you exercise in order to continue improving. Or you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you're exercising just the right amount to meet your fitness goals.

If you lose motivation, set new goals or try a new activity. Exercising with a friend or taking a class at a fitness center may help, too.

Starting an exercise program is an important decision. But it doesn't have to be an overwhelming one. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you can establish a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime.