If you're ready to dump your couch potato ways and improve your health, a treadmill is the place to start. Don't be intimidated by the all the buttons and readout displays-- if you know how to walk, you can use a treadmill. If you've been sitting and sprouting for a while, consult your physician before beginning an exercise routine.
Before even setting one foot on the treadmill belt, don the right gear. A quality pair of running or walking shoes is a must, as are comfortable athletic-style clothes. Familiarize yourself with the location of the emergency stop button and the speed and incline controls. You'll avoid embarrassing and potentially injurious accidents by mounting the treadmill safely. Straddle the belt by standing on the stationary rails alongside the belt and start the machine. Once the belt starts moving at a slow speed, hold onto the hand rails as you place one foot at a time onto the moving belt. Let go of the rails and gradually increase your speed to a comfortable walk.
For the first week or two, focus on short workouts that acclimate your body to walking on the treadmill. Each workout should consist of 10 to 20 minutes at a pace that feels comfortable. Warm up at a slow pace for about five minutes before you hit your full stride. Aim for between two and four workouts on the treadmill these first couple of weeks. You might feel more ambitious, but you should start with a schedule that feels manageable. Doing too much too soon may lead to burnout.
Building Length, Frequency and Intensity
After a couple of weeks of easy walking, you might add an additional walk per week or extend the length of time of each of your workouts. You can also experiment with faster speeds to achieve a moderate or vigorous intensity level. Moderate-intensity workouts done for 150 minutes per week help improve your health, while 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise achieve the same results. You may need to work out longer to achieve significant weight loss. A moderate-intensity workout makes you feel slightly breathless and unable to sing, but you can still talk; vigorous-intensity workouts usually involve a feeling of near-breathlessness. Walking or jogging intervals are a way to explore these speeds without draining you completely. After a warmup, increase your speed to a fast walk or a jog for a minute or two. Reduce your speed to a comfortable pace for an equal period of time to recover. Do between five and 10 intervals to complete a full workout.
Hills and Speed
When your couch potato ways are far behind you, entertain the idea of running for longer periods of time. Introduce running with intervals -- over time, you can increase the length of the running intervals while decreasing the length of the walking recoveries until you are running for 10 or more minutes straight. If running is not for you, use the incline button on your treadmill to increase the intensity of your walks. Most treadmills will elevate from 0 percent to as high as a 15 percent grade. Walking on an incline takes more energy than walking on a 0 or 1 percent grade and will help build cardiovascular health, develop leg strength and burn calories.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.