Getting started with exercise

Are you returning to a regular fitness routine, or starting exercise for the first time? Either way, it’s important to have a plan. Here are some tips to put you on the right foot and keep you on track.

1. Know your fitness level
Before trying any new exercise program, it’s essential to assess your fitness level and pace yourself accordingly. It is advisable to consult your GP to gauge relevant information, such as your weight, flexibility, aerobic fitness, muscle strength and any physical limitations you may need to consider. From there, you can discuss viable exercise options, frequency and short- and long-term goals.

2. Be realistic
The biggest rookie mistake with fitness routines is the ‘all or nothing’ approach. A burst of motivation can often lead to people setting unattainable goals, which, in turn, sets them up for failure. Remember the hare and the tortoise? Slow and steady is always the best approach. Small, realistic goals lay the groundwork for sustainable lifestyle changes. If you can only manage a lap around the block, that’s completely fine – it’s all about commitment and consistency. Once you’ve built some fitness and confidence, you can move on to the next level.

3. Types of exercise
When you’re starting out, it’s best to try low-intensity forms of exercise to avoid injury and overexertion. Some good, gentle workouts include yoga, swimming, walking, Pilates, tai chi, tennis, golf, water aerobics, ballroom dancing and leisurely bike-rides. ‘Incidental exercise’ is also a smart, low-impact way to improve your fitness – this can include parking your car further away, taking the stairs, running local errands on foot, and even cleaning the house. No matter what you do, the more fun you have when you exercise, the more likely you’ll stick with it.

4. Warm up and cool down
Injury is a sure-fire way to dash your fitness plans. Reduce your chances of hurting yourself by warming up and cooling down every session. Before you begin, do some full-body stretches and light cardio to literally warm up your body. As you’re winding down, reduce your pace (if doing aerobic exercise) and stretch those muscles.

5. Allocate rest days
It’s tempting to ‘go hard’ when you first begin, especially when the adrenalin and endorphins are pumping, but rest is still vital for a healthy body. Make sure you have at least a day in between sessions to allow yourself time to recover. Otherwise you’re at risk of pain, fatigue and possible injury.

6. Be kind to yourself
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health, but putting too much pressure on yourself can sabotage your good intentions. Every person is different, so try not to compare your fitness to others – go at your own pace, according to the needs and abilities of your body. If you feel like you should rest, don’t feel guilty or defeated; just pick it up when you’ve recovered. Mentally ‘budgeting’ for setbacks is a sensible approach that will keep you focused on the big picture.

Which forms of exercise do you enjoy? What have you found helps you stay focused on your fitness goals?

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Five best free fitness apps

Written by Louise Baxter

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