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Start an exercise program now for a ten-fold payoff later on
By Lisa Jones
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Start an exercise program now for a ten-fold payoff later on

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”—Lao Tzu

These age-old words ring true for many things in life, including starting a new exercise program. At times, we spend so much time thinking about it, planning for it and worrying about it, that we forget the most important thing – taking action. Even if it is just one small step at a time.

Working exercise into your life seems to make everything better. You feel healthier, your mood improves and research says you can prevent health problems now and in the future. So, why does it seem so hard to do?

With a few simple tips, a little prior planning and just a touch of sustained desire and motivation, you can be successful at exercise!

“Exercise is the magic pill,” says Michael R. Bracko, EdD, FACSM, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Consumer Information Committee. “Exercise can literally cure diseases like some forms of heart disease. Exercise has been implicated in helping people prevent or recover from some forms of cancer. Exercise helps people with arthritis. Exercise helps people prevent and reverse depression.” And there’s no question, it can also help people lose weight and appear more in shape.

The truth is, however, you don’t need to spend hours at the gym to get results.

“Any little increment of physical activity is going to be a great boost to health, weight loss and feeling better,” says Rita Redberg, MSc, chairwoman of the American Heart Association’s Scientific Advisory Board for the Choose to Move program. Your exercise options are numerous, including walking, dancing, gardening, biking – even doing household chores, said Redberg. The important thing is to choose activities you enjoy and that will increase your chances of making it a habit.

So, just how much activity do you need? For heart health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity several times a week, daily if possible. To burn fat and lose weight, more time or higher intensity activity may be needed.

Don’t worry, though, if you can’t work 30 minutes into each day starting out. Even a few minutes of activity is a great start and sometimes finding 10 minutes to take a quick walk or do some stretching in your office is more workable.

According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, there are five steps to get started on the path to more activity and better health. They are:

Assess your fitness level

Although you likely have an idea of your current level of fitness, there are some baseline measures that are helpful to know, including:

  • Your resting pulse rate and your pulse rate after walking a mile;
  • The length of time it takes you to walk one mile;
  • Your waist measurement;
  • How many pushups you can do, if any;
  • How far you are able to stretch forward when seated on the floor with your legs outstretched in front of you.

Design your fitness program

You will likely be more successful if you have a specific plan in place. Consider your fitness goals (weight loss, better health, etc.) You’ll also be more likely to stick with it if you choose a variety of activities you like. Most important, don’t start out too fast or with goals you aren’t likely to achieve. Go at your own pace and build up over time. It is also important to write it down – complete with goals. Having a plan in writing could be just the motivation you need to keep moving forward.

Gather your equipment

Make this step as simple as possible. It may involve getting a good pair of walking shoes, purchasing a gym membership or researching home exercise equipment. Just remember to be practical and keep your fitness goals in mind before you decide to make a large financial investment.

Get started

As you begin your program, there are a few simple things to keep in mind:

  • Start slowly and build gradually;
  • Break your activity down into smaller spurts of time if needed – the benefits will still add up;
  • Vary your activities so you don’t get bored;
  • Listen to your body. If you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break;
  • Be flexible. If you miss a day because you’re too busy or not feeling well, don’t let it de-rail you. Just pick up and move on the next day.

Monitor your progress

Give yourself some time, but after maybe six weeks or so, re-assess. Check your pulse rates, measure your waist and compare your original stats to where you are now. You may want or need to increase the amount of time you exercise or you may re-think and add to the activities you want to do. It’s important to touch base with your original plan – and make needed adjustments – as time goes on.

Building an exercise program into your life is an important decision, but it does not need to be a stressful or daunting undertaking. Be flexible and realistic. Ultimately, there’s no room (and no expectation) for perfection. Just try to stay focused and, before long, you’ll be feeling the benefits and you may even look forward to your daily dose of activity. Good luck!


Learn more.

You should ALWAYS consult with your physician before starting on a new exercise program. If you need help locating a physician, visit and find a clinic that is convenient for you.


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