Congratulations on your decision to start a fitness program! Embarking on a health-conscious goal is exciting, and even beginning exercisers can see results once they start working out consistently. As you gather your workout clothes and carve out time to take care of your body, remember to start slowly and build intensity and duration as your fitness permits.
Before You Start
Assess both your current situation and your long-term goals. Are you brand-new to exercise? Are you returning after a hiatus? Do you want to lose weight? Add muscle mass? Train for a marathon? Mayo Clinic points out that these factors are important considerations, as is taking stock of the state of your health, including your pulse rate, waist measurement, the number of pushups you can perform, how fast you can walk a mile and general flexibility. Mayo Clinic suggests monitoring your exercise program to ensure "at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity -- or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity -- a week."
Stretch It Out
Gentle stretching will relieve built-up tension in your muscles and joints and improve blood flow. Pilates or yoga classes designed for beginner students are two examples of exercise programs that will guide you toward enhanced flexibility and better posture in a safe and supportive environment with a teacher present. If you plan to perform your exercise routine at home, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends waiting to stretch until you've completed a brief warmup. Then, proceed slowly and don't pull or "bounce" on your muscles. Back off the stretch if you feel any pain. Breathe into your stretches to fully relax into the movement. Focus on stretching the quadriceps, hamstrings, inner thighs, calves, shoulders and triceps.
Cross-Train For Maximum Results
Even though a brisk walk around the block after dinner will improve your cardiovascular function, strengthen your heart and tone your muscles, adding fresh elements to your exercise routine will keep you interested in working out and lower the potential for overuse injuries that can occur from doing the same movements repeatedly. Mayo Clinic recommends switching up your routine with "activities that emphasize different parts of your body, such as walking, swimming and strength training." Other options include running, cycling, rowing and dance.
Keep a journal of your fitness goals and record your experiences and, especially, your successes. Track how you are meeting your initial goals: Are you walking a faster mile? Can you do more pushups? Are you more flexible? As you note improvement, you may need to devote more time to your workout or ramp up the intensity of each session. Foremost, listen to your body and enjoy the process.
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.