Fitness programs: 5 steps to getting started and 10 tips for staying motivated

Are you thinking about starting a fitness program? Have you ever started a fitness program and then quit? Many people start fitness programs but stop when they get bored or results come too slowly. Here are some great tips to put you a few steps away from a healthier lifestyle.

By Mayo Clinic staff

Starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. With your doctor's OK to exercise, physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight — even improve your sleep habits and self-esteem. And there's more good news. You can do it in just five steps.

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 a one-mile walk
  • How long it takes to walk one mile
  • 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 at the level of your navel
  • 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 5K (kilometer) race? Having clear goals can help you gauge your progress.

    Most adults should aim for at least 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — or 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week. Adults also need two or more days of strength training a week.

  • Plan a logical progression of activity. 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.
  • Think about how you'll 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 may encourage you to stay on track.

Step 3: Assemble your equipment

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. Or get creative. Make your own weights by filling old socks with beans or pennies, or by partially filling a half-gallon milk jug with water or sand and securing the tops with duct tape.

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.

Fitness programs: 10 tips for staying motivated

Are you having trouble sticking with your fitness program? Stay motivated with these 10 simple tips.

Have you ever started a fitness program and then quit? If you answered yes, you're not alone. Many people start fitness programs but stop when they get bored or results come too slowly. Here are 10 tips to help you stay motivated.

  1. Set goals. Start with simple goals and then progress to longer range goals. Remember to make your goals realistic and achievable. It's easy to get frustrated and give up if your goals are too ambitious. If you haven't exercised in a while, a short-term goal might be to walk five minutes once or twice a day. An intermediate goal might be to walk 20 minutes three or four times a week. A long-term goal might be to complete a 5K walk.
  2. Start slowly. If you push yourself too hard at first, you may be forced to abandon your program because of pain or injury. It's better to start slowly and progress gradually.
  3. Think variety. Vary your activities to keep boredom at bay. Alternate walking or biking with swimming or a low-impact aerobics class. When the weather cooperates, do your flexibility or stretching exercises outside. Play soccer with your kids. Join a health club or martial arts center to broaden your access to different forms of exercise.
  4. Have fun. You're more likely to stick with an exercise program if you're having fun. If you're not enjoying your workouts, try something different. Join a volleyball or softball league. Take a ballroom dancing class. Trade your running shoes for a swimsuit. Remember, exercise doesn't have to be drudgery.
  5. Make physical activity part of your daily routine. If it's hard to find time for exercise, don't fall back on excuses. Schedule workouts as you would any other important activity. You can also slip in physical activity throughout the day. Be creative! Take a walk during your child's music lesson. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Pedal a stationary bike or do strength training exercises with resistance tubing while you watch TV at night.
  6. Put it on paper. Are you hoping to lose weight? Boost your energy? Sleep better? Manage a chronic condition? Write it down! Seeing the benefits of regular exercise on paper may help you stay motivated.
  7. Seek support. You're not in this alone. Invite a friend or co-worker to join you when you exercise. Work out with your spouse or your kids. Take a class at a local fitness center.
  8. Track your progress. It may help to keep an exercise diary. Record what you did during each exercise session, how long you exercised and how you felt afterward. Recording your efforts can help you work toward your goals — and remind you that you're making progress.
  9. Reward yourself. After each exercise session, take a few minutes to sit down and relax. Reflect on what you've just accomplished. Savor the good feelings that exercise gives you. This type of internal reward can help you make a long-term commitment to regular exercise. External rewards can help, too. When you reach a longer range goal, treat yourself to a new pair of walking shoes or new tunes to enjoy while you exercise.
  10. Be flexible. If you're too busy to work out or simply don't feel up to it, take a day or two off. Be gentle with yourself if you need a break. The important thing is to get back on track as soon as you can.

Now that you're enthusiastic again, get moving! Set your goals, make it fun and pat yourself on the back from time to time. Remember, physical activity is for life. Review these tips whenever you feel your motivation sliding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
               

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