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:
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
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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.