Physical activity has many benefits that will lead to overall improved health. It can help you gain muscle strength and endurance and lose weight, of course, but there’s more. It will improve your balance and coordination, promote better sleep habits, boost your self-esteem, and even reduce your risk of chronic diseases, such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and dementia.

Maybe you’ve had a break in your fitness routine because of Covid, or perhaps you don’t have a regular exercise program and want to start one. Either way, if you haven’t been exercising and want to start, you should follow certain steps to begin a new fitness program.

Step One: Gauge your Fitness Level

Before you begin, take some time to gauge your current fitness level. Recording a baseline will help you measure future progress and ensure that you are moving at a good pace toward your goals. You’ll want to take note of your aerobic and muscular fitness, flexibility, and body composition by recording the following:

Regularly recording these key figures will help you measure your progress over time.

Step Two: Design a Fitness Program

It’s important to create a fitness program so that you are accountable for maintaining a regular routine. Without laying out a plan in advance, you’re more likely to make excuses for not working out and justify skipping days.

Start by writing down your fitness goals. Are you trying to lose weight for an upcoming class reunion? Are you training for a marathon? Do you just want to have more energy? Write down your goals so that you can stay motivated and measure your progress.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of both spread throughout each week. It’s also good to do strength training for all major muscle groups at least two times per week. Plan to do a single set of each exercise, using weights heavy enough to tire your muscles after about twelve to fifteen repetitions.

If you haven’t exercised in awhile, you’ll want to begin slowly. Don’t jump into a 30-minute run on the treadmill followed by three reps on the weights. Doing so may lead to an injury or could discourage you from continuing your program. Begin by adding activity into your daily routine where you didn’t have it before. Take a walk on your work break. Park farthest away from the store rather than getting the closest parking spot available. Do situps and pushups during the commercials of your favorite TV show.

Schedule time to workout just like any other important appointment in your life. Start slowly and progress gradually as your range of motion, strength, and endurance increase. Just as you schedule days of exercise, schedule days of rest. While you may feel excited and ready to push yourself to your limits, your muscles cannot handle workouts that are too long or too intense. Give yourself time to rest and recover between sessions.

It’s best to write down your fitness plan so that you can refer back to it, make changes, and stay on track.

Step Three: Gather Your Equipment

Before beginning your exercise program, you’ll want to make sure that you have the right accessories and equipment. You’ll want to have comfortable clothes that allow you to be flexible and aren’t tight or restricting. Choose yoga pants or sweatpants over jeans. Wear a large t-shirt. If you’re cold, dress in layers so that you can remove something if you get hot during your workout.

Pick out athletic shoes that fit snugly without being tight. Shoes that are too big can hurt your feet as much as those that are too small. You may want to buy shoes based on your planned activity. Running shoes, for instance, are more lightweight than cross-training shoes, which provide more support.

You may want to get a fitness tracker or download a fitness app on your smartphone to track your distance, measure calories burned, and monitor your heart rate, although many types of equipment at the gym can monitor these for you.

Step Four: Get Moving

Now that you’re ready to begin your exercise program, remember to start slowly and carefully. Give yourself time to warm up and cool down by stretching before any exercise. Walk slowly on the treadmill when you start and then again before you stop.

Exercise at a pace that you can keep up for ten minutes without getting overly tired. As your stamina improves, you’ll want to increase the amount of time you exercise with a goal of thirty to sixty minutes of exercise at least three times per week.

If you find that you can’t fit an hour session into your day, break up your fitness routine into shorter, more frequent sessions. Dance to music when you first wake up, take a ten minute walk after lunch, and then run on the treadmill for twenty minutes before dinner. Just as long as you are getting active and fitting exercise into your day, your health is benefitting.

If you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea, stop immediately. Listen to your body, because it will tell you if you are pushing too hard. You will get there, but becoming fit is a journey that takes time. Don’t try to rush it. Remember that you can take a day off if you are sick or still sore from the last workout. Give yourself permission to rest when your body needs it.

Step Five: Measure Your Progress

Six weeks after starting your exercise program, retake your assessment from step one. You’ll want to continue measuring your fitness level every few months. If you aren’t reaching your goals as fast as you’d like, you may need to adjust your diet and increase the amount of time you exercise in order to continue improving.

If you begin to lose your incentive, then it may be time to switch things up. Try a new machine at the gym or set new goals. Look into classes at your local gym or ask a friend to join you.

Beginning an exercise program is a smart decision that will bring you many healthy rewards. Take the time to plan ahead and prepare yourself before you start, and then go slowly and steadily increase your workout level as you go. Following these tips will help you achieve your fitness goals and establish an exercise program that will grow with you.

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