Maybe getting more exercise has been at the top of your to-do list at one time or another—and it’s been sitting there for months (even years) later. That’s not uncommon. Breaking out of a rut or trying to reverse an inactive lifestyle can present some challenging hurdles.
Though some roadblocks may be bigger than others, there are strategies that can set you up for success. Brush up on all the ways getting more exercise can improve your health to find some new motivation, and try these steps to get into a routine that’s effective and has true staying power.
The Health Benefits of Getting More Exercise
Consider these unequivocal truths about exercise:
- Increasing your physical activity helps ward off disease, can lengthen your life span and keeps you looking and feeling healthy and vibrant.
- Getting more exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure, boost immunity, keep weight in check and reduce back and joint pain.
- Being sedentary can cause a host of potential problems, from heart disease and osteoporosis to stroke, obesity and diabetes.
- Working out boosts mood, confidence and energy levels.
Talk about inspiration! And you don’t need to become a marathon runner or an Olympic-caliber swimmer to reap these rewards, either. Activities as simple as walking and water aerobics have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illness and improve quality of life.
As you set out to make this important change, consider these 15 pieces of advice on how to find an activity you’ll enjoy, stay safe and on track, and get the most out of every active minute.
- Start Gradually No one expects you to go from sedentary to active in just one week, or even in one month. Increasing your fitness level safely takes time, so be patient with your progress. Even the most basic activity, such as moderately paced walking for as little as three hours per week, can lower your risk of disease and lengthen your life. As you improve, try to increase the duration or intensity of your workout by no more than 10 percent each week.
- Listen to Your Body Personal limitations may make some exercise unsafe. Speak to your doctor about what the best options are for you. When you’re breaking a sweat, don’t work through any pain or serious discomfort. For instance, if you feel intense muscle or joint pain, stop what you are doing and seek help. Pushing yourself too far can not only affect your ability to keep up with your routine, but it can lead to injury.
- Be True to Yourself Choose your activities based on your personality and preferences. If you’ve never enjoyed jogging or despise competitive sports, it’s not likely that you’ll enjoy those things now. But if, for instance, socializing is a big motivator for you, a biking group may be more your speed.
- Try for 30 A half-hour of exercise every day has great physical and emotional health benefits. This is a good starting point. Again, you don’t need to start with sprints on the treadmill. Start slowly with an activity you enjoy, and work up to something that gets your heart beating a bit faster as you feel ready.
- Experiment! Some people make the mistake of staying with just a few activities. Widening your options can bring more fun and variety into the mix. Try several different and new activities, classes or sports. Take advantage of your surroundings and give things like swimming, rowing, hiking, climbing or ice skating a try.
- Mix it Up Once you’ve gotten into the habit of making time to be active, try to include representation from each type of exercise—aerobic, resistance (using weights), stretching and balance—in your routine to challenge your body and see more encouraging results.
- Ask an Expert When trying a new activity, get a professional to help you learn proper posture and technique. It’s easy to give up when you’re uncertain. Even just one session with a personal trainer can be beneficial and give you fitness tools you will use for years to come.
- Consider Where You Live If you are in an area where it’s often quite cold or hot, or you’re far from a gym, think about investing in some equipment for your home—a basic treadmill, a set of hand weights or some DVDs. You may be more likely to work out if you don’t have to drive long distances or endure uncomfortable temperatures to do it.
- Squeeze in Spurts If you can’t fit one long workout into your schedule, consider breaking it up into two or three shorter sessions of 10 to 15 minutes spread through your day. Split workouts can be as beneficial for health as long, continuous ones.
- Get the Gear Invest in a good pair of sneakers and replace them when they wear out, which is often after six months of regular use. If you’re expecting to exercise in inclement weather, arm yourself with protective clothing so rain, cold or snow doesn’t deter you from sticking to your routine.
- Bookend Workouts Wisely Always allow a few minutes for warming up and cooling down before and after a workout, no matter how moderate the activity. This can prevent injuries and improve flexibility.
- Fuel Up Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercising to replenish the fluid losses that occur with exercise. Some people benefit from a small snack—a banana, half a bagel with a smear of peanut butter or a handful of nuts—an hour before working out to provide energy and endurance.
- Try This Gadget Clip an inexpensive pedometer onto your waistband and tally up your daily steps; the average American should take at least 10,000 steps each day. Many pedometer users find that just seeing the numbers add up is a great motivator to achieve that goal, or even exceed it. You may also want to consider an accelerometer, which measures your movement and energy expenditure with the most accuracy.
- Remember: Everyday Activities Count You can build core muscle strength, increase endurance and burn calories with everyday activities such as housework, raking leaves or mowing the lawn, so don’t forget to give yourself credit for them when tallying your weekly activity.
- Surround Yourself with Support You are more likely to stay with your plan to exercise more if you make a date to walk with your coworker or meet a friend for dance class. Some people stay motivated with regular personal training appointments. Support can also be as simple as your spouse offering to cook while you exercise, or a friend regularly checking in on your progress. Tell those close to you about your goal.